A Day in the Life of Tom, a School Mental Health Specialist student

Thomas Young School Mental Health Specialist programme

Meet Tom Young, Bay Education Trust Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator and find out what a day in the life of a School Mental Health Specialist student looks like.

Hi Tom, tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do at your school?

I have been a member of staff at the Bay Education Trust since 2018. I first started at the Secondary school in the Trust as a PE technician, supporting the day to day running of the PE department. A few months into this role an exciting opportunity to become one of the Pastoral Managers presented itself, following a nerve wracking formal interview (my first one ever) I was pleased to find out that I was successful and began this role in November of 2018. I spent 3 years as a Pastoral Manager and loved every minute of it. The work was incredibly rewarding and varied; some days may include supporting students’ attendance and engagement with education to attending strategy meetings due to safeguarding referrals.

In November 2021 I began my current role as the Bay Education Trust Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator. In essence the core objective of my role is to ensure that as a Multi-academy Trust we take a Trust Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing, with the aim of supporting all members of our community (Pupils, Staff and Parents/Carers). Alongside my day to day role, I am ¾ of the way through my School Mental Health Specialist PG/Dip. The role and course together have been a match made in heaven, to be breaking new ground with my role and part of the first cohort of the School Mental Health Specialist programme everyday has been the perfect mix of challenging and rewarding.

Tell us your daily routine.

To use a cliche “No two days are the same”, that is probably something everyone involved with mental health would say across all sectors but equally feels like a good fit for explaining what it might be like for someone living with poor mental health. My position within the Trust is one with a focus on strategy and operations with a small sprinkling of supporting young people where needed. Most days will begin with checking in with colleagues on their own mental wellbeing and expanding this conversation to any particular situations that I may be able to assist with. One unique aspect of my role is that I have no other commitments outside mental health and wellbeing, this enables me to have more time than most to dive into this world.

As a result of the increased time I have been able to build a strong relationship with our local NHS Mental Health Support Team, we meet weekly (but talk nearly everyday) to discuss new referrals, young people open to their service and those who may be closing. This collaboration has been incredibly successful for our young people as to date we have had a very high success rate with referrals submitted to the service (Just under 100%!).

Given my previous role in the Academy, I still have a small number of young people who I support. Although not a formal intervention I have again been clear that as I have more time than some of my colleagues I can spend time listening to some of our young people and act as an advocate for them. This in turn has started to promote a more open culture within the Trust and a positive help seeking experience for our young people.

As my job title suggests, I cover a Trust of schools; these are a secondary school, two primary schools and an alternative provision that supports young people with SEMH needs. Although I cannot be in all of those places at once, I am always an email or call away from my fantastic colleagues who are mental health leads within each setting. Where the Mental Health Leads are responsible for the day to day management of mental health, I am able to support them with coordination and direct in order to make their life easier. A recent example of this would be a new Trust wide Mental Health Strategy that we are putting together. This collaborative approach to the creation of this document means we are able to use the expertise of the mental health leads and combine this with my oversight and strategic view point.

In essence my role is broad and varied but I would not change it for the world! I am a firm believer that mental health touches everything that we do in our lives and feel that the wide remit of my role embodies that.

What are you currently working on?

Since starting my role I have also been completing the School Mental Health Specialist PG/Dip. It has been such an incredible journey to date and not only myself but my colleagues have noticed my knowledge & confidence grow since starting the programme. Like many I had reservations about working and completing a PG/Dip, however the way Minds Ahead and Leeds Beckett have structured the course…it has been painless! It is clear that the course tutors want us to succeed and provide so much brilliant support and guidance.

I am incredibly grateful to be a part of this course and cannot wait to see where it leads!

What is your favourite part about the work you do?

Undoubtedly my favourite part of my role is making a difference to not only the pupils but a whole school community. Schools are often the first port of call for many people when it comes to accessing support for their mental health and wellbeing so ensuring that as a community we have a sound understanding is vital.

One part of my job that I thoroughly enjoy is the relationship which has been developed with our Trustee for Mental Health and Wellbeing, having an impartial person to dive into the work that I am doing helps me to feel valued, as I am sure many agree this is not always a priority for educational settings. It also enables me to reflect through our termly meetings on some of the great work going on in the Trust as I more often than not can become very focussed on projects.

Outside of school, how do you spend your free time?

Outside of school I am big on spending time with my Partner, friends and family. Since starting in the role I have made some wonderful connections with people in this field, however having a brilliant support network outside of work has really enabled me to feel able to motivate myself everyday. Living in the English Riviera means that I have some beautiful coastal walks but also walks on Dartmoor on my doorstep so whenever I can I will get out.

Coming from a sports background I often spend time watching Liverpool FC, Rugby Union or golf. (Injury dependent) I enjoy a round of golf but I think it is safe to say I am a fair weather golfer!

A book that you would recommend to a friend or colleague:

For me a must read is a book by Ben West, a mental health campaigner. The title of the book is “This Book could save your life”; it follows Ben’s journey after his brother took their own life. Although it is a hard read at times, I found it to be a brilliant window into the world of mental health that has the right mix of Ben’s brilliant humour and hard-hitting truths from professionals who work in the sector.

What would you say to people about the School Mental Health Specialist programme?

I cannot stress enough how beneficial the School Mental Health Specialist Programme has been to me. Given that most settings are finding their feet in relation to mental health and wellbeing as well as still dealing with the fallout of the Pandemic; I have found the programme to be the perfect fit to provide myself with a strong foundation to go about creating a positive Trust Wide cultural shift around mental health and wellbeing.

What are your top tips for improving pupils’ mental health in schools?

Listen to the young person. It is as simple as that. Too many times as adults within schools we can be drawn into what is in front of us, which might be dysregulation, truancy or even self-harm, this might lead to our response not being in proportion to the actual needs of that young person. One thing that I advocate for across my Trust is an approach of taking a step back to assess the wider picture of the young person, what you are seeing in that moment most likely will be one small piece in a bigger, possibly more complex, puzzle. This moment of reflection and seeking to understand what the young person is feeling, in my experience, has promoted more positive outcomes and young people who are willing to seek out support from adults.

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