Spotlight On: Mental Health First Aid training at Bradfield College
David Quinn, director of music at Bradfield College, explains how the school has developed its mental health support provision and outlines the benefits of working with partner schools to raise awareness and share best practice.
The expectations of young people today are ever increasing, bringing with them various forms of anxiety. Teachers and support staff are not always adequately equipped to best manage the issues they encounter and we feel that training in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) provides practical tools to spot early warning signs, like a change in mood of a child, which might otherwise go unnoticed, and then intervene. The idea behind physical first aid is to act quickly and effectively and, if done properly, could save a life. Similarly, MHFA could be the difference between a good recovery or prolonged mental illness.
At Bradfield, teachers receive training in physical first aid every three years and we think the same attention should be given to mental health. This is not uncommon in modern society and many organisations are doing more to look after their employees’ mental wellbeing, and raise awareness of these issues. In 2021 we started running MHFA courses for our staff, equipping them with the tools to support the mental health of our pupils and colleagues. Following the success of these courses, we launched our Youth Mental Health First Aid (Youth MFHA) courses for students. With an ever increasing portfolio of partnership work with our local community, this felt like an area we could develop for staff and students with clear mutual benefits.
For our staff, the one-day course covers fear of mental illness and gives practical training on handling difficult conversations, debriefing and protecting yourself and working through the effects that the emotionally charged job of being a teacher can have on the wellbeing of a person. For our pupils, they gain an understanding of common mental health issues and how they affect young people. In a seminar context, they look at how to spot the signs of mental ill health in young people and how to guide them to a place of support. The learning, led by a former head of wellbeing at Bradfield and accredited MHFA trainer, takes place through a mixture of presentations, group discussions and workshop activities; a perfect interactive learning environment for collaboration between pupils from a variety of backgrounds and with different experiences. At the end of our staff course, all participants receive a certificate of attendance to say that they are a Youth MHFA Champion, and the students take away a certificate evidencing their attendance at a Youth MHFA Half Day. Everyone takes away their workbook and, we hope, the sense of belonging to a support network in the local community.
We have welcomed colleagues from Little Heath School, The Willink School, and Theale Green School to our staff training days, whilst our pupils’ partnership has focused specifically on Little Heath. We have divided our sessions half and half between Bradfield and our partners, and we hold a separate training session once every term for staff and students.
Whilst we are happy with the staff training and partnership through MHFA, we have found that provision for our pupils at Bradfield is expanding beyond training 30 pupils in 3 sessions throughout the year. As awareness increases and the significance of the training grows ever stronger these changes are expected, and we want the benefits we receive from our partnerships to remain at the centre of what we do. Not only does this mean a growth in the number of pupils we train, but from September 2023 that training is set to diversify to not only include mental health awareness and first aid, but also coaching and mentoring. We expect this to open up further opportunities for partnership and longer term connectivity between institutions and, we hope, individuals. Our hope is that we will push this partnership from what the School Partnerships Alliance calls ‘collaboration’ to ‘alliance’. We are not alone in moving in this direction, and we will be looking to those who have already started to make progress such as the OX14 Learning Partnership.
I would be very happy to talk to anyone who is thinking about embarking on a Mental Health First Aid partnership or has further experience to share.
‘Having other schools helps to showcase that MHFA is needed across whatever sector you work in and the way in which one school operates can be beneficial to us and likewise to them. If you take yesterday where I think it was Little Heath, someone said that they have a lesson/protected time in a week whereby everyone stops their lesson and conducts a set piece. Great piece of sharing that will not only help other schools as well as us.’ - Bradfield teacher
‘Delivering Youth Mental Health First Aid to sixth form pupils showcases Bradfield and partnership schools working at their best. Helping pupils to understand that mental health has no barriers and sharing lived experiences, regardless of background, can only be a positive and help reduce stigma.’ - Vicki Rae, Youth MHFA course instructor