Improving Mental Health Professional Development and Training for School Staff: 5 Key Findings

Improving mental health and professional development and training image

The school mental health social enterprise Minds Ahead and the think-and-action-tank The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) have published a new report identifying how to improve mental health courses for staff in education.

Through a rapid review and group discussions with experts in the field, several key findings have emerged, shedding light on areas of improvement and strategies to create nurturing school environments. The report highlights that the future of mental health professional development and training for school staff holds immense potential for enhancing the wellbeing of both students and educators.


A growing mental health crisis

The education sector has felt the impact of the growing mental health crisis in children and young people. Self harm, suicide and eating disorders have become increasingly common amongst children1 and social isolation during Covid increased these pressures2. From 2020 to 2021 there was a record 134% increase in the number of children referred to mental health services for support3 and long waiting lists for support from sources such as CAMHS mean that young people’s needs are often going unmet.


The need for professional development for school mental health

Yet evidence shows that developing strong support systems and a school-wide ethos which values protecting mental health as well as promoting social emotional-learning, can bolster young people’s wellbeing and resilience and prevent critical mental health cases arising4. This type of support can be life-changing and even life-saving. For this reason it is important that professional development provides school staff with the relevant skills and knowledge to support young people with their mental health and wellbeing, alongside the help available from the health sector.


Key Finding #1: The focus for School Mental Health professional development

Following our comprehensive research into 12 courses offering training at the DfE’s advanced or expert levels, and extensive discussions, our panel agreed that professional development should be tailored to the requirements of the school’s staff and focus on 4 key areas:

  1. Establishing a clear and consistent understanding of mental health and the school’s role: The understanding and awareness of young people’s mental health needs and the school’s role in supporting them currently shows inconsistency within the school community.
  2. Ongoing, up-to-date and relevant training: Continuous training in school mental health is insufficient for school staff. The resources and time invested in professional development concerning mental health and wellbeing are often limited to a select few individuals.
  3. Training that supports increased confidence: Improving staff members’ confidence is imperative. Insufficient confidence in managing the mental health of young people may stem from various factors, including a lack of awareness or insight into mental health needs and strategies for support, apprehensions about risk and accountability, or uncertainties in dealing with diverse families, cultures, values, or attitudes.
  4. Emphasis on looking after their own wellbeing: School leaders should prioritise the wellbeing of their staff. By cultivating resilience, managing emotions effectively, and formulating strategies to enrich their personal wellbeing, staff members can better support students struggling with mental health challenges.


Key Finding #2: Who should take responsibility for enhancing the mental health support in schools?

Various stakeholders play key roles in enhancing mental health support in schools. Our panel concluded these include:

  • School and Trust leaders set standards and allocate resources
  • The DfE provides guidance, support, and incentives
  • Universities and training providers integrate mental health into education programmes
  • Local health services and charities collaborate to address gaps in training


Key Finding #3: The barriers to mental health professional development in schools and how to overcome these.

Our experts identified 5 main barriers:

  • Limited funding
  • Time constraints
  • Senior leadership buy-in
  • Competing priorities
  • Varying baseline
  • knowledge and skills

To overcome these barriers:

  • The Department for Education (DfE) should provide clear guidance and resources
  • School leaders must prioritise and integrate mental health training
  • Training providers should offer courses designed to align with evidence-based practice
  • Senior leadership buy-in is crucial for successful implementation


Key Finding #4: How can mental health professional development and training for school staff be improved?

When exploring the question of how mental health professional development can be improved to help create school environments where staff and students thrive, it is necessary to consider the needs of school staff, the current CPD offer, and how these fit into the wider context of accountability and support available to schools. Our panel of experts recommended:

  • Establishing a shared model of mental health within schools, achieving a clear and consistent understanding of mental health and the role of schools and school staff
  • Emphasising the relationship between wellbeing, school connectedness, and learning
  • Incorporating strategies to work with diverse families and communities
  • Fostering staff confidence in managing mental health challenges


Key Finding #5: The gaps where future mental health training can evolve into to allow children and young people to thrive.

Our experts agreed that schools must recognise their role as a complement to other support mechanisms for young people’s mental health. This involves defining and shaping the school’s contribution to mental health in a way that aligns with community-wide commitment and holistic wellbeing. Professional training should:

  • Include information and strategies to promote wellbeing and foster social emotional development and resilience in young people
  • Have a focus on how schools can adapt or modify behaviour systems to support students’ wellbeing and learning
  • Incorporate youth voice into future planning and interventions
  • Include evidence from educational research in building nurturing and learning environments and model strategies using expertise from educational psychologists.


In conclusion, the path to improved mental health support for young people within school environments requires a collective effort from various stakeholders. By addressing current gaps, prioritising mental health professional development and training for school staff, and fostering collaborative initiatives, we can pave the way for a brighter future where the mental well-being of students and school staff is nurtured, valued, and supported.

To access the full report, see The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) and Minds Ahead 2023 Report.


Anamaría Granada, Alix Robertson. Mental health professional development for school based staff: a rapid review. The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) and Minds Ahead 2023 Report.

Nuffield Trust, 2022
Commission on Young Lives, 2022
Granada, Hallgarten, Hasset, 2022
Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2021