By Julia Howe
Yesterday saw the publication and launch of the document “Investing in a Resilient Generation” produced by the Mental Health Policy Commission. For an educational psychologist this document is like a breathe of fresh air. There are two reasons for this, the first is the focus in the report on the prevention of mental health difficulties and the second is the holistic nature of the recommendations. They cover not only education, family and employment but also wider social inequalities. The emphasis on prevention and on taking a holistic approach are what most educational psychologists having been striving for since the “reconstructing educational psychology” movement 40 years ago.
Another positive feature of this report is that a whole system approach arguing that: “No single action, in isolation, can ensure that the causes of poor mental health are minimised.” (p. 10). In doing so the authors do not fall into the trap of locating their recommendations within one sector and thus ignoring the work that professionals are doing elsewhere. Sadly, something that educational psychologists have come to expect in such reports.
The report places the promotion of good mental health in the arena of Public Health England. In doing so it avoids the pitfalls of beginning with prevention and then rapidly moving towards an identification and treatment model, something that is more typically seen in such documents. Educational psychologists often have good relationships with our colleagues in Public Health due to our many shared values. So in my own local authority, the educational psychologists are engaged in whole school training for schools based within attachment theory, funded by Public Health. And in our neighbouring authority of Sandwell, my colleague, Colette has been involved in developed a well-being charter mark for schools with colleagues from Public Health.
The whole report is worth reading and there will be areas that other educational psychologists will be able to link to their work. Here I want to mention just two of the recommendations that focus on the education system and schools. Any educational psychologist who was working before 2010 will recognise the value in these.
The first recommendation is “Whole-school Social and Emotional Learning programmes that are universal but can offer additional support for more vulnerable children.” For anyone, like me, who mourned the end of the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme after the change of government in 2010, this will be music to your ears. Regardless of your thinking about SEAL itself, it arrived in a context where teachers wanted something to support the development of their pupils beyond the academic curriculum. Something that feels fairly familiar today. And there was important learning from SEAL, for example that schools responded better to a scripted approach where materials were provided. The discarding of SEAL suggests to me that whole school social and emotional learning programmes need to form part of the statutory curriculum and so be less easily discarded.
The second recommendation is a “Whole-school approach to addressing harmful behaviour such as bullying.” Again many educational psychologists will have worked on anti-bullying initiatives in schools and will know their value. The report links this to the research in the impact Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), which is also beginning to inform the work of some educational psychologists.
The report is not a government document. It has been written to influence and inform future policy. It is heartening that it was launched in Westminister as this gives it higher status. I urge you to read it, to share it and to discuss it with colleagues both within and outside our profession.
Julia is an academic and professional tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.
Colette Soan is an academic and professional tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham
You can find a copy of the report here: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/research/policycommission/Investing-in-a-Resilient-Generation-report.pdf
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