School Governors: Asking the right questions about mental health

Schools are a front line service. So, what role do school governors have when it comes to mental health?

What are the questions governors can ask to support the mental health of pupils and staff?

One role of school governors is being a critical friend.

Here you’ll find questions and information that governors can use (and download) to help fulfil the role at this difficult time.

The questions are split into six sections and can be used by governors of both mainstream and special; primary and secondary and also PRUs.

A useful approach is to identify a small number of questions that best fit your school.

A Brief Background

The NHS numbers show that there is a mental health crisis amongst children and young people.

The NHS is not alone and The Children’s Society also report sharp rises in anxiety, depression and a wide range of other mental health issues.

The Children’s Commissioner has said an extra £10bn is needed to tackle the impacts of COVID on children’s mental health.

Before COVID, there were already concerns about mental health services being unable to cope. The impact of COVID and lockdowns built a new crisis on top of an existing crisis.

So, now is the perfect time for governors to ask effective questions about mental health.

What should school governors ask?

Most schools already have policies in place that refer to mental health. They also have systems to report wellbeing concerns (e.g. to the DSL).

Most governors are already aware of both their policies and systems. So, the following questions dive deeper in to the details.

Mental Health Questions

1. Impact of School’s Mental Health Work

School governor mental health questions during and post COVID image
  • What impact has our current provision already had?
  • How do we evaluate the impact of our current provision?
  • Do we use, for example:
    • Pupil, staff or parent surveys
    • Staff leavers questionnaires
    • School Council discussions
    • Learning walks / lesson observations
    • Absence monitoring
  • If we develop our mental health provision, how might we see an impact on, for example:
    • Bullying
    • Parental satisfaction
    • Number of safeguarding incidents that include mental health factors
    • CYP persistent absence
    • Staff retention
    • CYP leaving our school (e.g. because the school place has ‘broken down’)
    • Use of partial timetables

2. Long Term Direction

Mental health and emotional wellbeing school governing body leadership image
  • What is the vision for our mental health provision in three years’ time?
  • How does our work fit in with either local or national initiatives?
  • Should governors expect to see mental health featured in the next school improvement plan?
  • How and when do you plan to update governors on developments?

3. Leadership

Mental health and emotional wellbeing school governing body leadership image
  • How do our leader’s approaches support the wellbeing of staff?
  • What staff debriefing is in place (e.g. a following a distressing or violent incident?)
  • How do leaders induct & mentor new staff so that they maintain good wellbeing in the workplace?
  • How will pupil views influence our mental health provision?

4. Teaching & Learning

Mental health teaching and learning image for governing body image
  • How do our leader’s approaches support the wellbeing of staff?
  • What staff debriefing is in place (e.g. a following a distressing or violent incident)?
  • How do leaders induct & mentor new staff so that they maintain good wellbeing in the workplace?
  • How will pupil views influence our mental health provision?
  • Are there teams within schools (e.g. key stage, year group or subject) who have embedded mental health learning into the curriculum? If so, what have they been doing?
  • What monitoring is there of mental health teaching to check on its quality?
  • How do we avoid our emotional wellbeing ideas being squeezed out by academic priorities?
  • What do we do to teach about SEND to help all pupils be tolerant and understanding?
  • How do we teach about SEND so that pupils with SEND better understand and accept their own disability (e.g. a pupil with autism)?

5. Adult Learning & Development

Mental health teaching and learning image for governing body image
  • What staff training have we had and who attended?
    • The head teacher?
    • The school leadership team?
    • Teachers & teaching assistants?
    • Non-teaching staff?
    • What impact has staff training had?
  • Are governors invited to attend this training?
  • What training for families do we provide?
  • How will we know if training for families has been successful?

6. Information & Partnerships

Mental health external agencies and support services for school governors image
  • What mental health information is on our website?
  • If I walked around school, what could I see or hear that tells me about our approach to mental health?
  • How good are transition arrangements for joining and leaving our school, in particular, for vulnerable learners?
  • What is the impact do we see from work with:
    • Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
    • Other external agencies or charities
    • Parents / carers

Links to background reading for School Governors

Mental health and emotional wellbeing websites image for school governors

One last tip for school governors

Remember that it can be exceptionally tough for school leaders and staff who are responsible for safeguarding.

The questions are about everyone’s mental health. That includes staff and leaders.

Whatever and however you ask, treat leaders with dignity and respect.

Now. As ever.

Where can I get more advice or support?

  • Aaron King, Director

    With over 20 years experience of working with children & young people in both mainstream and SEND settings, Aaron King is the driving force behind 9000lives.

    Aaron has written for the TES, including in the Leadership & Governance sections. He has also been a school governor for around 15 years.

  • Aaron King

    Aaron King Director

  • Get in touch

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    director@9000lives.org

    0788 42 42 719