EIS sat down with Charlene McCallum, the newly in post Principal Teacher of Pupil Support (Mental Health and Wellbeing) at St Ninian’s High School in East Renfrewshire, to discuss what’s working within the school to address the mental health needs of young people, and how her own professional learning with EIS has contributed.

Charlene has been a class teacher, pastoral teacher, and had responsibilities for ASN within the school, and feels her new role, which is a first within the school, brings together all those strands as well as her passion for the health and wellbeing of young people as well as her colleagues.

When asked what makes this role that focuses on developing strategies for addressing the mental health needs of young people work, Charlene highlighted:

Time to seek out and share expertise. Charlene acknowledged that there is a wealth of resources to use and organisations to work with around mental health, but a busy teacher doesn’t have the time to explore and make connections. She now has time to do the research and build partnerships, and more importantly share her findings with colleagues in a way that makes the information easily accessible to them.

Whole school and whole community approaches. Charlene participated in mental health awareness training with EIS and was struck by the passion every participant on the course had for addressing the needs of young people.  On reflecting, she realised the overwhelming support and willingness she had to drive forward her work wasn’t the norm in every school and sees talking to EIS as a way of hopefully inspiring development in other schools.

From experience, Charlene highlighted the importance of providing opportunities to upskill, for example undertaking mental health first aid.  Hearing the voices of pupils and staff in the approaches that are being developed helps ensure they are approaches that work for the people who use them. 

Progress that Charlene is particularly proud of is that parents are getting on board with starting discussions around mental health needs with help from workshops and resources provided by the school.

Teacher health and wellbeing. Charlene spoke of the importance of healthy, informed, supported colleagues in the development and delivery of ways to address the mental health needs of young people. Having a team of knowledgeable staff means teachers having extra support, especially when addressing multiple complex needs. With secondary stress cited as a contributor to the stress of teachers, having ways of addressing this is also a way of addressing teacher health and wellbeing.  

Preventative approaches. Charlene highlighted changes don’t happen overnight, systems change takes time. While addressing complex cases now, it’s essential to implement ways of preventing cases reaching crisis point in the future. In St Ninians’s, that’s through a range of individuals and group interventions, for example coproducing wellbeing materials with young people, and providing safe spaces for young people to access out of class.

Involving primary school staff in events and staff development around mental health awareness is an important part of ensuring a preventative approach, and Charlene highlighted the increased number of colleagues from local primary schools engaging with the school for events and training.  

Charlene wrapped up with an acknowledgement that while there’s a great deal going on in St Ninian’s right now, there will always be more to do, as the types and complexity of issues young people face evolve.