Institute of Education


New research reveals the impact of mental health training for school staff

9 October 2018

New UCL Institute of Education (IOE) research has revealed the impact of Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training on secondary school staff throughout England.

Teenager sat on wall

The study involved over 1,000 school staff and evidences around a three-fold (190%) increase in confidence in knowledge, skills and awareness to support a young person struggling with their mental health. 

Prior to undertaking Youth MHFA training, only 30% of staff reported feeling knowledgeable, skilled and aware to support a young person experiencing mental ill health. After training, 59% of staff said they felt highly knowledgeable, aware and confident to support a young person – this increased to 87% up to three terms later, highlighting a sustained improvement as staff put their skills into practice and had time to reflect on their training. 

Caroline Hounsell, Director of Communities and Content Development, Mental Health First Aid England, commented: “Schools routinely provide physical first aid and reassurance if a child falls ill or is injured - and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the case when they are struggling with their mental health. Today’s report findings demonstrate that skilling schools staff in Mental Health First Aid is having a really positive impact on their confidence around interacting with students.

“Whilst this programme is the first step in addressing the mental health training gap in schools, we hope to build on its success by continuing to give access to these skills to school staff across England.” 

The research was commissioned to evaluate the first year of the Youth MHFA in Schools programme, a nationwide initiative funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, which aims to train a member of staff in every secondary school in the country in mental health awareness by 2020. 

In the first year of the programme over 1,200 school staff participated in a Youth MHFA One Day course, qualifying them as Youth MHFA Champions – someone who is skilled in understanding how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in young people and who has the confidence to guide the young person to a place of support. So far in year two of the programme, 631 staff have received the training.  

Research by The Teacher’s Union NASUWT last year revealed that although 98% of teachers have contact with pupils who they believe are experiencing mental health issues, only 46% report receiving any training on pupil mental health.

The positive impact of training

Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes, Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education at the IOE and Principal Investigator in the research team, said:

"The year one national evaluation has demonstrated that the Youth MHFA Schools One Day Training Programme has raised school staff knowledge, awareness and practical support they can give to support young people's positive Mental Health. 

"The evaluation demonstrates that the training enables school staff to learn about the complexities of young people’s mental health and gives the MHFA Champions practical advice around listening to, supporting and signposting young people who may need help. The evaluation has shown that Youth MHFA Champions are able to make sense of their training within their own local contexts and in dialogue with young people are able to provide a range of creative possibilities and alternatives for Mental Health support within their schools."

Dr Sveta Mayer, Lecturer at the IOE and a co-investigator in the research team, explained: 

“Our evaluation has helped us to recognise the positive impact Youth MHFA training has upon participants, as those who have undertaken training begin helping young people with mental health issues and developing mental health provision within their educational setting. 

"We also learnt that the trainees’ professional expertise and role, the context of the educational setting they work in, and the ability to take care of their own mental health have impacts upon the effectiveness in developing mental health provision.

"These findings have given us an indication of what works well and what is challenging for practitioners implementing their training within their educational settings. Supporting them in what works well and addressing these challenges will ensure practitioners are able to meet their aspirations in embedding Youth MHFA within their educational setting. ”

Media contact

Rowan Walker, UCL Media Relations
Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 8515  
Email: rowan.walker@ucl.ac.uk