School Mental Health Specialist – DfE assured

School Mental Health Specialist programme DfE assured

The School Mental Health Specialist is accredited as a 2-year postgraduate diploma (PGDIP) or a full Master's degree (MA).


Have you missed the application deadline for 2022 entry? Complete your application now to be placed on a reserve/waiting list.

If a place becomes available, we will let you know immediately. Places may become available at short notice on a first-come basis so please complete your online application now and ensure that your contact details are up to date.

The ‘School Mental Health Specialist’ is a postgraduate programme developed by Minds Ahead in collaboration with Leeds Beckett University. It has been jointly designed and informed by school leaders, educational experts and mental health professionals.

As the first of its kind, this school-based mental health programme is the only postgraduate programme exclusively for school colleagues wishing to develop specialist knowledge in the emerging area of public mental health.

MA applicants can apply for a postgraduate loan through Gov.UK. Our partner, Leeds Beckett University, has a dedicated support team to help students with their applications.

Developing staff to make a real difference

As the School Mental Health Specialist, you will be a key practitioner in your school or college supporting children and young people directly. You will gain knowledge of the latest research and theories relating to mental health in education from a wide range of perspectives and will learn how to apply these to benefit students and staff within your school or college.

The second cohort of students will start in September 2022. 

Please follow the steps below in order to apply for a DfE grant to commence training in September 2022 (Read the Gov.UK updated guidance here):

Step 1: Have your school’s DfE number and DfE account details ready

Step 2: Check the eligibility of your school or college on the Department for Education terms and conditions

Step 3: Complete the DfE grant funding application form

Step 4: Receive a confirmation email that you have reserved a training grant from the DfE

Step 5: Apply online to one of the Minds Ahead DfE assured programmes and please retain evidence of your booking as this will be needed to claim your grant.

Step 6: Upload evidence of your booking to DfE. You will need the relevant Minds Ahead DfE course code:

  • School Mental Health Specialist PG Diploma (PGDIP):  SMHL024
  • Masters in School Mental Health Specialist: SMHL126

Our courses are listed under the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools (training provider) as the Centre of Excellence is a partnership between Minds Ahead and the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

Step 7: Receive funding from the DfE

You must submit your application using our online application form.

To be part of the School Mental Health Specialist programme we require you to have support of your Headteacher. Your Headteacher will need to agree that you have the support of the Senior Lead for Mental Health, or a member of the SLT as your mentor as you will be a key practitioner in your organisation supporting children and young people directly. 

We will send an email directly to your Headteacher asking them to complete a reference supporting your application. 

After completing your online application, you will be asked to provide evidence of your ability to meet the requirements of GCSE English grade C or above. Leeds Beckett University will only accept a certificate that has come from an exam board. 

When we researched this new programme, we found that there are many short mental health courses, which typically last a few days. However, there are few 2-year programmes accredited at Postgraduate level. Therefore, whilst there will be some coverage of similar themes, the School Mental Health Specialist has greater depth and breadth of coverage.

The programme has been designed exclusively for application in school and colleges and is only for those working in educational settings. This means that the themes covered will all address the issues and practicalities of schools and colleges.

In some schools and colleges, especially smaller settings, it might be that you are also providing the majority of mental health support and interventions to pupils. In this case, the School Mental Health Specialist programme (SMHS) will be relevant to you. Alternatively, if you lead other colleagues who provide mental health support for pupils, it might be that the SMHS programme is more relevant for them. 

Training for the Senior Lead for Mental Health looks at the whole school approach to mental health, taking the strategic perspective, managing school and college level change and working with governors. The School Mental Health Specialist (SMHS) programme is focused on supporting pupils directly and improving the mental health of identified pupils. Hence, the two programmes cover different aspects of ensuring holistic mental health support across your setting. In some schools it might be that the Senior Lead for Mental Health is also providing the majority of support to identified pupils, in which case the SMHS programme would also be relevant.

The 2-year programme (PGDIP) costs £7,950. This can be paid in instalments and you can choose one of the following payment plans:

Payment Plan A (3 instalments):

  • £1,200 Deadline: 1 April 2022
  • £3,750 Deadline: 1 September 2022
  • £3,000 Deadline: 1 September 2023

Payment Plan B (2 instalments):

  • £4,700 Deadline: 1 September 2022
  • £3,250 Deadline: 1 September 2023


The full Master’s costs £10,650.

Payment Plan MA (3 instalments):

  • £4,700 Deadline: 1 September 2022
  • £3,250 Deadline: 1 September 2023
  • £2,700 Deadline: 1 September 2024

If you live in the UK, a Postgraduate Master’s Loan can help with course fees while you study the School Mental Health Specialist Master’s programme:


Our partner, Leeds Beckett University, has a dedicated support team to help students with their applications.

Implementation in school/college is key to the success of the programme and the work of the School Mental Health Specialist. Therefore, prior to confirmation on the programme we will seek assurances from the school/college that they are able to adequately support the participant to undertake the key activities on the programme.

We will also run a briefing for the senior lead for mental health, so that they understand the role that they play in enabling their colleague to perform well. In addition, we will provide a termly guide for the senior lead, so that they understand the key requirements as they progress through the programme.

You will get support from your academic tutors in terms of writing frames, assessment guidance and assignment tutorials for each of the module assignments. There will be tutorials and support from course tutors on school based issues that relate directly to the subject matter of each module (e.g. strategies to identify student needs, intervention approaches).  As a student of Leeds Beckett you have access to the Skills for Learning Support, disability advice and support, pastoral support and much more that can be seen here.  

Alongside the support you will have from a member of staff at school (e.g. the DSL for Mental Health or the DSL for Safeguarding) in terms of school based issue you are also entitled to two supervision sessions in the final term of Year 1 and two supervision sessions in the first term of Year 2. Minds Ahead will provide, pay for or help to organise a suitably qualified and experienced psychotherapist to provide this supervision.

Implementation of learning is key to the success of this programme and a requirement when it comes to assessment. Therefore, it is vital that the school/college supports participants on the programme to implement their learning and try new approaches. The participant will need to be working closely with identified vulnerable pupils and supporting their mental health, their parents and other school/college staff.

The programme assessment will require activities such as evaluations of practice, journals of working with pupils, presentations of initiatives for staff, the creation of resources to use in school/college and the creating improvement plans.

Each module is expected to take around 200 notional learning hours. This comprises approximately 25 hours of input and support from teaching staff. The remainder is split between applying practice at your school or college and guided independent study. Each module will take one school term to complete and will include the submission of an assessed piece of work at the end.

There is no need to have experience of working at masters level, or other recent academic study, as we will provide guidance and support throughout the programme, however, it is a requirement to be working in or with schools / colleges in a role that supports pupils with their mental health.

A large part of the course will be delivered online, enabling you to access the programme at a time convenient to you, however, there will also be online live events, which will require your online attendance.

In developing this new role and programme we have worked with a broad range of schools across all phases and of varying scales. Any decisions regarding salary expectations for the role will be a school/college decision.

Also, some schools have staff which will have the mental health specialist work full time on providing mental health support, whereas other schools will have staff with additional responsibilities, such as leadership, teaching or other duties. Each school/college will decide on the best structure to meet their local needs.

In devising this role we have worked with special mental health schools, as well other schools working extensively with a range of mental health services, to carefully consider how the School Mental Health Specialist role will compliment existing services.

A School Mental Health Specialist (SMHS) will adopt a public mental health philosophy, drawing on the depth of evidence of effective practice which can be provided in universal settings, such as schools and colleges. They will take a holistic educational perspective, locating the pupil in a broad sense within the school / college.

The SMHS identify needs and provide support to pupils. This is different to other mental health professionals who may diagnose clinical or medical disorders and work to treat these. Just as other educational staff are, the SMHS will support pupils who are also accessing clinical interventions by specialists. The programme places a significant emphasis on working with other professionals to ensure the best outcomes for the pupil.

The course is delivered part-time and online so it can be accessed at times that suit the applicant.

The programme comprises six modules, each lasting a term and all are focused on improving and supporting mental health. It is compulsory to undertake a Dissertation module as part of the Master’s degree.

There will also be online live events, such as webinars and tutorials. The final module will include visiting another school and hosting another student at your school.

The programme covers general, evidence-based approaches to supporting mental health and most of the core content will apply to any setting and location. However, the programme will also link to relevant national policy frameworks and national educational departmental guidance. As a Masters programme, participants will be expected to undertake a high degree of self-study and so will be expected to look at the relevant policies and guidance documents for their context.

  • To be working in or with a school or college for a significant part of the week, this can be across several schools and can includes all types of schools (early years, primary, secondary, FE as well as Hospital Schools, Alternative Provision and Special schools)
  • To be working in a role that supports pupils with mental health needs
  • To have the support of the Headteacher to undertake the programme
  • To have a mental health lead, or other senior leader in the school who can oversee and provide ongoing support during the programme

These are in addition to the usual requirements to be able to complete at postgraduate level, although there is no requirement for having prior postgraduate or undergraduate qualifications. Participants will also need to have the time to complete the modules, apply the learning in your school or college and complete the assignments.

There are some similarities to the EMHP course, in that the School Mental Health Specialist is a practice-based PG Dip, focused on meeting the pre-clinical needs of children and young people. However, the key differences are that EMHPs will be employed in local NHS provision and will probably work across multiple schools/colleges, reporting to the NHS. The School Mental Health Specialist will be a school/college staff member reporting to the head teacher, or other senior school lead. They will be exclusively school focused. 

When we researched the School Mental Health Specialist programme, we found that headteachers want to have a member of staff on site, working for them as a part of their team, trained in mental health support and much preferred this to having to go through local referral processes. Schools will also work with EMHPs and other specialist services in their area and the programme recognises this through the content and assignments.

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“The Carnegie School of Education, at Leeds Beckett University, have worked successfully with Minds Ahead since their inception and I am thrilled that we can develop this relationship further by working together on this new qualification."​

Professor Damien Page, Former Dean of the Carnegie School of Education

“It is clear that there is a need for first class mental health support in our schools. I am delighted that Minds Ahead are working on a new postgraduate programme which will bring school mental health expertise to our schools.”​

Baroness Nicky Morgan, Former Secretary of State for Education

 "Running a special academy which serves children and young people with social, emotional and mental health needs, makes it clear to me that we need new and informed training routes into working in mental health in schools. I am delighted to be a part of the group designing the School Mental Health Specialist qualification."

Scott Jacques, Executive Headteacher, Springwell Academy

Schools are facing a mental health crisis and are struggling to access the support that they need

Outcomes for students with a mental health need are very low, attendance is a major concern. Staff wellbeing is also affected with over half of teachers saying that their personal relationships are affected by their challenges at work. Now more than ever, it’s to make a tangible difference to the practice of schools and colleges. 

The School Mental Health Specialist programme covers general, evidence-based approaches to supporting a whole school or college approach to mental health. By gaining this professional qualification, your school or college will have dedicated and qualified support as part of the school team. 

Minds Ahead have won several highly competitive awards to design and develop this innovative programme:

Minds Ahead is an UnLtd Award Winner

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