Preparing for life, learning and work

Why this is an issue

We have spoken to young people, headteachers, college leaders, health and support workers and employers. The same concerns have been raised: we need to understand young people’s lives better, be aware of the factors that limit their resilience, and provide the support they need to be ready to learn, achieve and progress into rewarding employment.

The concern raised the most was the increasing impact on learning of poor mental health and wellbeing that does not meet the threshold for clinical intervention, but still causes significant behavioural issues in and out of school, affects attendance and, ultimately, stops pupils aspiring to or achieving the grades they are capable of. Schools and colleges working with immigrants or other vulnerable groups can face particular issues in helping pupils integrate, particularly if they have been subject to trauma.

The data – for Oldham and in general – suggests there is a link between mental health issues and performance in the classroom. We owe it to pupils and teachers to develop a better understanding of the scale of the impact on learning. Many schools already pay for school-based counselling services or resilience programmes, but demand for the professionals running these services often outstrips supply, and teachers can feel they lack the professional knowledge to provide effective support. In choosing the best programmes, schools have to choose from a wide range of options, with evidence of effectiveness often hard to find.

Youth unemployment in Oldham is higher than the national average, and young people in Oldham are far less likely to enter the workplace at 18 (via apprenticeships or other employment).

The poorest children in Oldham are much less likely to go to a top third university than other children in Oldham, or when compared to other disadvantaged young people around the country.

When we spoke to employers and professionals working with young people out of school, they all talked about resilience and the benefits of a broad and inspiring curriculum in keeping young people engaged and opening pathways to a wider range of careers. They made it clear that young people need to develop soft skills like communication, self-discipline and the ability to work with others, as well as developing a deep knowledge of core subjects, and to have opportunities to take part in cultural activities, sport, and volunteering.

What we will do

  • boost the capacity of those supporting schools, such as school mental health advisers and school health advisers, to complete mental health impact and needs assessments and baseline data for Oldham schools by the end of 2018, including pupil surveys to monitor changes in mental wellbeing issues and track improvements, as well as capturing data on learning hours lost to mental health issues
  • support schools to develop mental health plans, and work to embed the whole school and college mental health framework by the end of 2018 to ensure a legacy of effective practice – this will include supporting schools and colleges to use the mental health self-assessment tool
  • offer needs-based support to schools and colleges between 2017 and 2019 to allow them to source additional mental health support to meet immediate needs (for example, counselling for students)
  • train at least 1 staff member in every school to deliver robust, classroom-based programmes to promote resilience and mental health, so that these programmes can be delivered in schools from 2018 onwards
  • celebrate, evaluate and support homegrown initiatives – Oldham benefits from a number of locally-developed support programmes, including the ‘positive minds’ programme run by Positive Steps, peer mentoring in Saddleworth school, and the Kooth online counselling offer, which is commissioned directly by the Youth Council. These and others look promising but the evidence base is not yet in place to make the case for scaling them up. We will evaluate the most promising initiatives, drawing on the expertise of our research school to help design and run our evaluations

Our targets

  • all schools will have a robust mental health plan and named mental health lead
  • there will be an improvement in mental health and resilience, and a reduction in learning hours lost to mental health problems, compared to the baselines established in 2018
  • all schools will have staff members trained to deliver classroom-based programmes to improve resilience and mental health
  • at least 25% of schools will provide additional mental health support for students, with at least 3 additional full-time mental health support staff
  • at least 3 mental health initiatives developed by Oldham schools will be supported and evaluated and, if they are effective, scaled up to reach more pupils
  • all schools will be supported to offer the Oldham Pledge through additional extra-curricular activities to build young people’s resilience and employability
  • every 11 to 18-year-old will benefit from at least 4 high-quality encounters with the world of work
  • we will have invested in building a robust and attractive offer of technical education, subject to the findings of our work later this year – this could include, for example, new technical and general qualifications pre- and post-16