Many positives can be taken from one of most challenging years for Scottish education - Jacqueline Cassidy

We’re fast approaching the end of term and it’s an important moment to look back on another extraordinary year across Scottish education. It’s undoubtedly been one of the most challenging in memory, but there are also many positives that we can take away from the experiences of the past year or so.

Jacqueline Cassidy is Director (Scotland and Wales) at children’s mental health charity Place2Be.
Jacqueline Cassidy is Director (Scotland and Wales) at children’s mental health charity Place2Be.

During the pandemic, school staff from teachers to administrators had to pull together in order to provide the best possible support for pupils. We knew that they needed to be equipped with the knowledge, confidence and skills to cope with whatever mental health issues children might bring into the classroom, even if the classroom was virtual.

So, our team prioritised developing an online children’s mental health training programme which helps to enhance school staff’s understanding of children’s mental health and introduces them to approaches that help foster positive wellbeing in schools and communities. With the help of our corporate supporters, we’ve been able to offer the programme for free to any school staff who may have wanted to take part.

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We know from our work in schools that it is not only the teaching staff who help to make a school a mentally healthy place. For many children, teaching assistants or members of the office staff are the people they talk to and share their challenges with providing opportunities to train. But the wider school staff too create a whole school approach to supporting mental health.

Currently over 4,5 00 school staff across the whole of Scotland have started the programme, with 90%+ saying the programme has led to a positive approach to wellbeing and mental health within their school communities.

Pamela Carlyle, a Teaching Assistant in West Lothian said:

‘’I now feel more confident supporting children's mental health within my school and in the wider school community. Completing this course has also made me think more about how I need to look after my own wellbeing and mental health to enable me to fully support others.

As well as our current teachers and school staff, we also want to make sure that the next generation of teachers have the best possible understanding of children’s mental health. To address this, we have developed a bespoke Mental Health Champions Foundation programme for student teachers in Moray House (Edinburgh University) and Stirling University. Over 1,000 trainee teachers have taken part so far and we will continue to support new generations of teachers in the coming year.

We recognise that there’s also a need for the wider workforce beyond the school gates to support children and young people, and we’re delighted that, with funding from the STV Children’s Appeal, we are working in partnership with Youth Scotland to offer a specialist Youth Worker Mental Health Champions Foundation programme, which sees us training over 1500 Youth Workers across Scotland this year.

There are many other parts of the workforce who are supporting children and young people and we will continue to develop Mental Health Champions Foundation Programme to ensure that moving forward everyone, not just teachers, has an understanding of children’s mental health and can help to give every child a positive start in life.

If you’d like to know more about our work, get in touch at [email protected] Place2Be is grateful for its generous supporters, including the Players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Jacqueline Cassidy is Director (Scotland and Wales) at children's mental health charity Place2Be.

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