Implementing mental health support teams in schools and colleges

Monday 6 February 2023 (13:00-14:00)

Stacey Smith


Implementing mental health support teams in schools and colleges: learning from an early national evaluation.

Between 2019 and 2023, more than 500 new mental health support teams (MHSTs) will have been created, supporting more than three million 5-18 year olds. Mental health support teams work in and with schools and further education colleges, providing psychological interventions for young people with mild to moderate mental health problems, and helping teaching and other staff to promote emotional wellbeing across their setting. A new role in the mental health workforce has been created for the teams, that of education mental health practitioner (EMHP).

This session reports findings from an early national evaluation of mental health support teams, led by the University of Birmingham, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, RAND Europe and University of Cambridge. This mixed-methods study focused on experiences of MHST development and delivery in 25 Trailblazer areas. Data collection included surveys with participating education settings and key informants; interviews with 132 purposively sampled participants involved in the design and delivery of MHSTs at a local, regional or national level; focus groups with children and young people; and analysis of programme documentation and monitoring data. Data were gathered between November 2020 and February 2022.

The study findings suggest that there is a great deal of optimism about MHSTs and their potential to improve children’s access to support, and to help (further) develop positive mental health cultures in school and colleges. Two differing ‘logics’ about the purpose and aims of MHSTs emerged. Some saw them as a further extension of children’s mental health services into new (i.e. education) settings, while others emphasised their role in supporting the development of school-wide approaches to promoting wellbeing. There were also a number of significant challenges: relating to MHSTs’ mild to moderate remit, the focus on providing low-intensity CBT, striking a balance between wellbeing-focused activities and providing mental health support, and retaining EMHPs once in post. These challenges, and their implications for how MHSTs operate and what they can achieve, will be explored during the session.

About the Speaker

Jo Ellins is a Senior Fellow at the Health Services Management Centre and Deputy Director of the NIHR BRACE Rapid Evaluation Centre. She has worked extensively in applied health services research and evaluation, and has particular interests in people’s experiences of using health services and in person-centred care and approaches. Her work has encompassed diverse topics including cancer services, primary care and service integration, as well as children and young people’s mental health. She has particular expertise in theory-based evaluation and in designing and conducting research in collaboration with people who use health services and the wider public, including the use of participatory and narrative methodologies. Prior to HSMC, Jo worked at the Picker Institute, NHS Centre for Involvement and the research consultancy ICF.