Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Questions (237)

Tom Neville


237. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Education and Skills the current and future mental health initiatives to be put into practice in post-primary schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5196/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy may be aware, mental health and well-being promotion is afforded a high priority and is one of the key goals within my Department’s Action Plan for Education in 2016/19. My Department is strongly supportive of the promotion of well-being in our schools and has a key role to play in the promotion of the well-being of children and young people in Ireland, in collaboration with the Departments of Health and Children and Youth Affairs, and with other Government Departments and Agencies.

My Department adopts a holistic and integrated approach to supporting post primary schools in promoting well-being and positive mental health. The process spans the curriculum in schools, whole-school ethos, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, student support and pastoral care and the provision of professional development for teachers. It also involves other supports such as educational psychological services and guidance services, and the interface with other agencies, both nationally and locally.

To support this holistic approach my Department has published a Well-being Policy Statement and Framework for Practice (2018-2023) for all schools which will inform how schools can best promote student well-being. The policy statement and framework for practice provides an overarching structure encompassing existing, ongoing and developing work in the area of Well-being Promotion in schools.

Best practice indicates that schools adopt a whole-school, multi-component preventative approach to Well-being Promotion that includes both universal and targeted interventions. A whole-school approach involves all in the school community engaging in a collaborative process to improve areas of school life that impact on well-being. This will be achieved through the use of a School Self-Evaluation process taking Well-being Promotion as its focus. It will allow schools to benchmark their practice against the statement of effective practice, and identify areas for development, implementation and review. It is envisaged that schools will engage with the statements and adapt and develop the best practice items as they meet the needs in their own school community.

A multi-component approach encourages schools to address areas, not only relating to Teaching and Learning but also relating to culture and environment, policy and planning and relationships and partnerships. These areas are embedded in the Well-being Framework for Practice. Working preventively and providing for both universal and targeted approaches is described as providing a ‘Continuum of Support’. Schools are encouraged to provide supports to promote the well-being of all within the school community as well as providing some targeted interventions for children and young people presenting with vulnerabilities in the area of well-being.

It is my Department’s aim that by 2023 all schools and centres for education will have embedded this dynamic School Self-evaluation process focusing on Well-being Promotion. The implementation of this Well-being Promotion Process is an ongoing process that will ensure the necessary focus on supporting children and young people in having a sense of purpose and fulfilment, and the skills necessary to deal with life’s challenges.

A Well-being Policy Implementation Plan, which has specified seven high level goals, has been agreed for achievement over the next five years. The seven high level goals are as follows:

1. Strengthen and align current structures within the Department and between the Department and other relevant Departments to ensure the coordinated implementation of this Well-being Policy Statement and Framework for Practice.

2. Plan and provide for the national roll-out of a professional development process to facilitate all schools and centres for education to engage with and embed a Well-being Promotion Process which builds professional capacity and collaborative cultures from 2018-2023.

3. Provide for an aligned, comprehensive and easily accessible programme of support for all schools and centres for education to address school-identified well-being promotion needs.

4. Consider how the system is meeting current and future teachers’ learning needs relating to well-being promotion.

5. Develop a research based framework for the evaluation of well-being promotion in schools.

6. Improve use of supports for children and young people at key points of transition within and between education settings.

7. Promote the well-being of school and centre of education personnel.

The Well-being policy Statement encompasses the support for implementation of the Well-being in Post Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention (2013) and Well-being in Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion (2015). These guidelines to present in an integrated way the existing elements of good practice to promote positive mental health, and direct then to new practices as appropriate. They provide clear information for schools and for agencies supporting schools on how to address issues of mental health promotion. The European wide HSE supported, Health Promoting School Process (HSP) is also outlined, and the Well-being Guidelines show how the HSP can be introduced to schools to complement existing good practice. The Guidelines outline how schools support young people through early intervention and prevention, modelled on the NEPS Continuum of Support tiered approach (see appendices below for additional information).

Schools will be supported in this work by a national professional development programme currently being developed and trialed, and full roll out will commence in 2019.

In addition, our national support services will step up the investment made in building capacity within schools to deliver:

- Training for teachers and school staff (including the Incredible Years programme, the Friends programme and the SafeTALK programme)

- Improved curriculum content (through the Junior Cycle Well-being programme, improved resources for teachers to deliver Relationships and Sexuality Education)

- Best practice models of school based student support teams

- Protocols for connecting to wider support services

- A national training programme to support schools to implement the Self-Evaluation Well-being Promotion Process and the development of Well-being Resources, including self-evaluation planning and feedback templates.

The Framework for Junior Cycle 2015 includes an area of learning at junior cycle called Well-being encompassing Physical Education (PE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE). Up to 400 hours is available for learning in the area of Well-being in junior cycle beginning with a minimum of 300 hours of timetabled engagement from 2017 and moving to the full complement of time as the new junior cycle is fully implemented. The Well-being Policy Statement 2018–2023 is the overarching context in which the implementation of the Junior Cycle Well-being Programme is situated in post primary schools. Within this policy and framework implementation, it is expected that the Junior Cycle Well-being Guidelines will be the focus for implementation with the Junior Cycle cohort. The NCCA has developed Guidelines for Junior Cycle Well-being to support schools in planning and implementing their Well-being Programme. The Guidelines situate curricular provision in CSPE, SPHE and PE within the broader context of whole-school provision for well-being. There is a suite of supports provided to post-primary schools to enable them to implement the Well-being Programme. My department works in partnership with the HSE, Health promotion Services in developing lesson plans which will focus on mental health promotion to support implementation of the social personal and health education curriculum in Junior Cycle well-being Programme.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), is leading work in supporting schools with review and development of student support teams in reviewing and developing support structures for teachers and students through the implementation of the Guidelines on Student Support Teams in Post- Primary Schools (2014). This guide provides practical support for schools in the implementation of significant elements of the Well-being in Post-Primary Schools Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention (2013) and is in line with current national priorities in relation to the Well-being and mental health promotion among young people.

The third edition of Responding to Critical Incidents: Guidelines and Resource Materials for Teachers issued to all schools in autumn 2016. This document provides comprehensive advice for schools in preparing for and dealing with a crisis situation. Of particular note in the revised edition is the attention to inclusion of advice in relation to use of social media in crisis situations. The Guidelines are an essential support to school communities in preparing for and attending to Critical Incidents that challenge the coping mechanisms of schools. Training is provided by NEPS for all post primary

New resources to tackle cyberbullying “UP2US”, “My Selfie and the wider world” and “Lockers” were launched in 2016 through the internet safety initiative, Webwise and an UP2US social media roadshow was run in collaboration with Beat 102-103. “Being LGBT in School” A Resource for Post-Primary Schools to Prevent homophobic and Transphobic Bullying and Support LGBT Students was developed by the Gay and Lesbian Network Equality (GLEN) as part of the implementation of the Action Plan on Bullying. It will support schools in the implementation of the Department’s Anti-Bullying Procedures. The production of guidelines for boards of management in relation to homophobic bullying is also being supported.

The Department of Education and Skills (through the Teacher Education Section), in conjunction with the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) has introduced a training model for the delivery of SafeTALK suicide prevention training. This training aims to prepare people to identify those with suicidal thoughts and connect them to people and agencies that can help. SafeTALK has an awareness and training focus; participants learn to recognise and engage persons who might be having thoughts of suicide and to connect them with individuals in the community who are trained to provide suicide intervention(s).

By providing this Well-being Policy Statement and Framework for Practice and capacity building initiatives I believe that we can fulfil our mission to enable individuals to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland’s social, cultural and economic development into the future 2026.

In order to support schools in the implementation of this Well-being Policy Statement and Framework for Practice it is planned to develop and roll out a comprehensive programme of professional development, commencing in 2019. This will include facilitating the engagement of schools in the school self-evaluation for well-being promotion process, which will build professional capacity in schools. Work is underway to map the range of existing supports that schools can already access through the PDST, Health and Well-being Team, the Junior Cycle for Teachers and NEPS, with a view to ensuring that there is a comprehensive and easily accessible set of resources to address school-identified well-being promotion needs.