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Mental health in schools: Belonging is essential for well-being

There is a robust link between having a sense of safety, belonging and well-being and the student’s engagement and performance in education. 
 
Research by UCL has found that having a sense of belonging at primary, secondary, FE & HE is a reliable predictor of attainment and is often lower among marginalised ethnic groups. There is evidence that the role of belonging, where it is deployed in context of an inclusive agenda, is potentially positive, protective and significant.  
 
Contrasting sanction driven approaches and inclusion focused approaches they find that ‘Zero tolerance’. which has it’s underpinnings in serious criminal behaviour, such as gun and drugs offences, has no solid evidence of effectiveness in schools. Whilst there is evidence that it intensifies a sense of unfairness among students who already feel marginalised. 
"Schools where behaviour is challenging, and where responses to behaviour are punitive, have an impact on staff as well as student well-being." ​

Those most likely to be excluded or ‘off-rolled’ are most likely to have certain characteristics: Boys, Black, Poor, SEND or Mental health needs.

Social isolation and victimisation, such as bullying, is more severe in already disadvantaged students and the implementation of some security measures, such as the CCTV, resulted in increased sense of security among white male pupils but an increased sense of threat among black male pupils. There is strong evidence that student perceptions of school safety, implementation of safety strategies, exclusion and perceptions of belonging are racialised.

Developing a sense of belonging can enhance interpersonal, instructional, and institutional structures. Fostering a positive sense of cultural uniqueness and recognition of minority ethnic groups, rather than a sense of individual or group deficit. Ensuring individual enhancement, high quality and inclusive teaching and curricula, and enactment of belonging strategies across organisational levels.

Intentional and contextualised approaches and interventions can help to eliminate disparities in behaviour policy and management. These have a blend of preventative strategies and intervention strategies. Such approaches are characterised by a clear focus on the inclusion of equity and anti-bias practices in curriculum, as well as within core processes within the school and they all call on involvement of both students and parents to work in partnership on behaviour issues with staff.

The greater the degree of connectedness between staff and pupil the more likely students are to experience a sense of belonging. In turn, this results in stronger levels of student engagement. Class delivered social and emotional learning is also highly effective. Teachers are a highly significant and valuable resource to students and there is no evidence of detriment of this relationship to teachers.

"It is as important for staff as for young people, to experience a sense of belonging in school."

Overall, a contextualised and multi-level approach to behaviour, belonging and student engagement was most effective. These include a high degree of contextual awareness and a bold call for caring actions. Teacher relationships with students, sense of belonging and enhancement of social and emotional learning are very strong components within effective practice.

Mental health in schools belonging is essential for wellbeing