Nuffield Health reveals benefits of embedding a dedicated wellbeing expert in UK school

Putting a dedicated role into schools with responsibility for wellbeing can make a positive difference to the emotional and physical wellbeing of students and staff, suggests new research from Nuffield Health. The findings from the report ‘Improving wellbeing in schools’, conclude that the role should not be added to the existing staff’s responsibilities, if it is to have an impact on students and staff.

The report follows on from the Government’s budget announcing an additional £2 billion investment to fund specialist mental health teams in schools and concerns about the growing levels of obesity in children.

‘Improving wellbeing in schools’ shares the findings and methodology from a pilot that installed a Head of Wellbeing within a secondary school for two years, which completed last year.  An initial needs assessment at the school - Wood Green School, Witney, Oxfordshire – had highlighted mental health issues and stress management as priorities for the school.  A survey of the staff and students had showed lower then national average levels of wellbeing.

The Head of Wellbeing worked closely with students and staff to assess emotional and physical wellbeing priorities and develop a targeted, responsive programme of initiatives and activities for the whole school.

As a result of the pilot, wellbeing is now one of Wood Green School’s six values and timetabled within the school curriculum. Head teacher, Robert Shadbolt, made a crucial decision to invest budget in maintaining a wellbeing role as a part-time post after the completion of the project. 

Robert Shadbolt, Head Teacher at Wood Green Secondary School said: “I don’t believe there’s a single child in this school who hasn’t thought about the importance of what they eat, what exercise they do, what they do with their screen time, the importance of good mental health and how they achieve that. I think if that’s not part of what education is for, then we’re failing. Having someone whose specific role it is to coordinate, deliver and drive the wellbeing programme, rather than trying to combine this with a member of staff’s other teaching commitments, is critical to its success.”

Findings

Outcomes from data collection and evaluation showed changes in emotional wellbeing levels for both students and staff.  Staff mean scores for wellbeing (as measured by WEMWBS*) had risen by 11.89% by the end of the pilot. 

In students, although there was a slight decrease in mean scores, further analysis showed this was primarily driven by students in Year 7, who were showing the signs of experiencing the often-difficult transition from primary to secondary school.

There were also improvements in fruit and vegetable consumption across the board.  In terms of exercise and activity, the mixture of both new opportunities and a better understanding of their bodies, provided students with the impetus to exercise more regularly.  There was a marked increase in the number of staff using gym facilities, with almost a quarter signed up for regular activities.

The report identified the importance of providing the support in a tailored approach to ensure relevance to the school’s situation and that interventions needed time to embed. The outcomes show it takes time to adapt, elicit behavioural changes and for these to be sufficiently rooted to have lasting results.

What next?

Using the insights from this pilot, we have developed swap, the Schools Wellbeing Activity Programme. The programme is free and offers evidence-based lessons that can be delivered by our experts, to support local schools in their area, either as a 6-week programme or individual sessions.

Our Medical Director Davina Deniszczyc said: “There is a gap in the provision of wellbeing support in schools that urgently needs addressing. Our pilot showed that a dedicated expert, embedded into a school, can achieve significant change over time. For Nuffield Health, the next step is to use our expertise, to have a measurable impact on young people’s wellbeing, through swap, our free six-week programme.”

We are aiming to reach 50,000 young people by 2020 through partnerships with local schools.


Monday 19 November 2018