Curriculum Planning and Design
Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing
In curriculum planning, schools must take into account their pupils’ needs in relation to mental health and wellbeing. According to data cited in the ETI Chief Inspector's Report 2016–2018 (page 18), around 45,000 children in Northern Ireland have a mental health need at any one time, and more than one in five young people suffer significant mental health problems by the age of 18.
In one sense, the pastoral structures of a school form a central part of curricular provision. Among the factors that can enhance pupils’ achievement are:
- visionary and collaborative leadership;
- meeting pupils’ emotional needs in order to build resilience;
- validating skills and knowledge other than those associated with academic success;
- positive relationships between parents, teachers and pupils; and
- effective pastoral care and support for pupils with special educational needs.
Broad vocational provision and enrichment can also help engage pupils who prefer to learn through connections with the outside world.
Factors to consider
Curriculum planning should consider factors such as the following:
- establishing good pastoral structures, for example:
- continuity in the staff members available to provide pupils with support; and
- awareness of individual pupils’ language skills and ability to articulate issues;
- maintaining a supportive environment which:
- is welcoming and pleasant;
- fosters positive whole-school relationships; and
- uses positive classroom management strategies;
- having a policy on early identification of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties;
- promoting a preventative curriculum that includes flexible, skills-based personal development programmes;
- having robust procedures to monitor trends in pupil behaviour, assessment, pastoral and attendance data for the purpose of identifying mental health issues;
- planning for associated tailored interventions such as:
- access to counselling;
- music and art therapy;
- sensory regulation;
- reasonable adjustments to the school timetable; and
- time-out cards;
- using mentors and buddies to promote emotional wellbeing;
- having mental health ambassadors to train pupils in mental health first aid;
- considering the appointment of a wellbeing or inclusion co-ordinator, family support worker or youth worker;
- using staff training opportunities to build capacity, including sharing effective practice within Area Learning Communities;
- raising staff awareness of the risks of overlooking or underestimating pupils’ emotional difficulties, especially where pupils' patterns of internalising and externalising difficulties can mask underlying problems or their parents may also underestimate the extent of their distress; and
- the impact of mobile phone use, including cyberbullying and coping with the negative impacts of social media.
For more details see the 2018 ETI publication An evaluation of the effectiveness of Emotional Health and Well-Being support for pupils in schools and EOTAS centres and our Guidance on Identifying and Supporting Learners with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties.
Questions for curriculum planners
- What policies, structures, arrangements and procedures are in place to address pupils’ social, emotional and wellbeing needs?
- Who is responsible for each aspect of these?
- Do all staff recognise their responsibilities within the school’s framework of provision?
- Does the annual programme of staff training include the upskilling of staff in pastoral matters, and how is the impact evaluated