By Julian Thomas | 15 Mar 2021

Urbis analysis suggests there is not enough happening nationally to consistently prioritise mental health in government schools.

Although wellbeing features generally in most state and territory education portfolio strategies, explicit commitments to resourcing schools to build psychological resilience and mental health vary significantly.

The findings of both the recently completed Productivity Commission’s inquiry, and the Victorian Royal Commission into mental health make it clear that we can and must do better. They highlight the opportunities to build social and emotional wellbeing and support mental health through our education systems.

We need to lift the education system’s capability and capacity.

The initial responses to the inquiries from governments signal that there is appetite for substantive reform, and this should include strengthening how we build mentally healthy schools.

The weight of history and Urbis’ own experience evaluating strategic reform programs indicates they succeed where there is vision, commitment and accountability.

Having the requisite vision requires a systemic, rather than piecemeal or portfolio-based approach to the issues. This will require our education systems to coordinate and collaborate with the mental health systems and family support services to deliver shared outcomes at the strategic and community levels.

We need to back this joined-up vision in through commitment to a robust and appropriately resourced implementation strategy. We need to lift the education system’s capability (building organisational and workforce skills) and capacity (more resources targeted to mental health).

Furthermore, we need to ensure accountability for effective system governance enabled by access to system performance data. This means capturing and making visible the data to allow schools, regions, and systems to make the best decisions, and a commitment to evaluating the delivery and impact of our efforts.

Leveraging our education system to support better mental health will help create space for our children to thrive.

We’ve previously written about the role of schools as ‘hubs’ in their communities – a role that has been highlighted by the pandemic.

We rely on schools for a lot more than education – they play a crucial role in protecting our most vulnerable children. Our schools have frequent and sustained engagement with most children. They are the perfect setting in which to build resilience, to identify at-risk children, and connect kids to the help they need.

Good mental health is intrinsically linked to our social, cultural and economic participation, and gives our children the best chance of success in life. Leveraging our education system to support better mental health will help create space for our children to thrive.

To learn more about Urbis’ analysis, please contact one of our team of experts to discuss further.

This article was supported by research undertaken by Urbis researchers Jayde Grisdale and Greta Newman.

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