Half of all those who have a mental illness in adulthood will have developed it before the age of 15 (DoH, 2013). Although the causes are many and varied, schools can make an ‘enormous difference’ to the well- being of children and young people. Enabling children and young people to focus on ‘something else’ when they walk through the school gate, supporting them in doing that and giving them the tools they need to do it, makes a difference in their lives. Contrary to what may be expected mental health issues cross social and economic boundaries. And happiness is largely down to our thoughts.

For schools, this means ensuring that pupil well-being is integral to the culture. This is effectively achieved through a whole school approach, as encouraged by the government (House of Commons Education and Health Committees, 2017). In practice in involves shining a light across leadership, teaching and learning, parent and carer engagement and provision of wider opportunities, with children and young people’s well-being at the centre. It will mean answering challenging questions: Are we ‘actually’ addressing this? Can we ‘really’ differentiate between a child or young person who needs further support or one who is going through a difficult period at home? What could we do better? Prevention is better than intervention. Although many schools are addressing well- being, children and young people are likely to fare better at some schools than others; provision is piecemeal and not always a priority (House of Commons Education and Health Committees, 2017).

At Achievement for All we believe that every child should be included; we push back against any practice that does not improve the life chances of all; this covers academic achievement, skills for work and well-being and resilience. Challenges, which children and young people face in all their forms, build multiple and systemic barriers that can prevent them from achieving all they can. Schools need to be places where barriers come down or even better, places of early action, preventing mental health issues from escalating. In partnership with the education, business and third sectors, Achievement for All implements bespoke whole-setting, school and college programmes focused on building the core in all children and young people:

  • Aspiration, ‘I can’: the grit and resilience that makes perseverance in the face of challenge a ‘lived practice’ of children and young people, understanding and supporting learning, building ambition and goal-focused behaviour.
  • Access, ‘I do: developing independence in learning and self-development in children and young people leading to an understanding and ownership of their responsibility for their own ongoing life-long journey of learning and development.
  • Achievement, ‘I am’: the internalisation of learning and success, the ‘feel good’ factor of learning that grows from within, equipping children and young people to understand what they know and how to learn.

Our education system has a moral imperative to ensure that every child and young person can achieve. When we meet these needs, we also meet the needs of our future society. This is accomplished by harnessing and mobilising the potential, talents, and skills of children and young people that will drive society to progress. The future may be unpredictable, but if we effectively support children and young people today, we are more likely to prepare them to meet the challenges of tomorrow. It is estimated that mental ill health costs the economy £100 billion a year in care, social welfare benefits, job absenteeism and prison places. It could be different, if all schools across the country shine a light on well-being.

Professor Sonia Blandford is CEO of Achievement for All. The current article has been adapted from Every Child Included: Achievement for All 3As Plan for All Children and Young People to Succeed.