The iMHARS framework

iMHARS describes a whole-school approach to mental health and resilience. The iMHARS framework helps schools to understand the seven aspects (components) of school life that can support and contribute to pupils’ positive mental health and resilience. The seven components were created from a wide body of evidence and have been developed and tested in Islington schools.

iMHARS framework

The iMHARS collaborative audit

iMHARS can be used in schools to do a collaborative audit. This involves researching current practice to identify where things are working well, areas for improvement and next steps. Schools are encouraged to reflect on what support is in place to meet the needs of all pupils; for the most vulnerable pupils, for those at risk, and preventative measures for all pupils.

iMHARS collaborative audit

How was iMHARS developed?

iMHARS helps schools to identify the areas for improvement and plan steps that will best meet their needs, before putting measures in place.

How was iMHARS developed?

How iMHARS makes a difference

The iMHARS framework demonstrates how much schools can do to protect mental health and helps staff to understand the impact of their role.

How iMHARS makes a difference


The iMHARS framework

Click or touch each of the iMHARS components to see the supporting practices:

Supporting practices

  • A culture of mutual respect, recognition and affirmation, modelled by staff behaviour
  • Leadership and school development plans that support health and wellbeing
  • Whole school policies and their consistent implementation
  • Ensuring everyone feels safe within the school
  • Creating opportunities for fun, laughter and relaxation
  • Involving pupils, parents, staff and governors in decision making

Supporting practices

  • Teaching social skills, listening and empathy
  • Well organised peer support programmes
  • Planned opportunities to socialise with different pupils and different people
  • Teaching pupils to be able to ask for help
  • Encouraging kindness, and understanding of the consequences of actions
  • Supporting positive communication, including when using social media

Supporting practices

  • Encouraging perseverance, risk taking and learning through mistakes
  • Providing formative and meaningful feedback
  • A variety of interactive teaching methods that engage all pupils
  • Opportunities for collaboration and team work
  • Providing all pupils with appropriate levels of challenge
  • Teaching creative and systematic problem solving strategies

Supporting practices

  • A planned comprehensive PSHE education curriculum
  • Nurturing self-belief and positive qualities such as optimism and forgiveness
  • Developing pupils’ critical thinking skills and encouraging reflection and self-awareness
  • Providing high quality enrichment activities
  • Opportunities for pupils to volunteer within the school and the local community

Supporting practices

  • All staff, pupils and parents understanding risk factors for mental health problems; and the identification, referral and support system
  • Early identification of pupils with emotional and mental health needs
  • Careful joint-planning to meet individual pupils’ needs
  • Effective recording and monitoring of pupil progress
  • Established school systems, practices and interventions
  • Partnership working with a range of specialist agencies to support whole school practice and pupils with complex concerns

Supporting practices

  • Joint-planning and decision making with each child’s parent
  • Providing appropriate support for those parents identified as needing additional help
  • Regular, meaningful communication
  • A range of inclusive activities that support all parents to feel welcome and part of the school community
  • Working in partnership with parents and carers to promote pupils’ social and emotional wellbeing

Supporting practices

  • Enabling all staff to respond appropriately to pupils’ emotional needs
  • Promoting and supporting staff wellbeing
  • Training staff to increase understanding of mental health
  • Effective staff professional development
  • Consistent, positive and effective management
  • Building supportive and trusting relationships amongst staff

The iMHARS toolkit (£)

Islington schools can access a host of supporting documents and resources to support the framework and help complete their audit. 

iMHARS toolkit (£)

If you're denied access and would like to purchase the toolkit to use in your organisation, please contact us. See the iMHARS model of support for information on pricing.

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The iMHARS collaborative audit

Click or touch each step to see what it involves and the supporting documents available to Islington Schools to support you:

  • Initial meeting to be held to brief key members of staff on iMHARS
  • Identify the member of senior leadership that will lead the audit process in the school
  • Consider creating a core team of staff (2-3) that will champion and promote iMHARS across the school community. (You may want to include pupils, governors and parents)
  • Head teacher to be fully briefed on purpose of audit and the type of activities involved. If working in partnership with Islington or Camden, complete the iMHARS partnership agreement
  • Staff briefing to be held to inform staff of the process of iMHARS and invite them to take part

iMHARS audit (£)

  • School to consider speaking to other schools that have completed the iMHARS audit to further understand the process
  • School to identify the components that will be audited, perhaps with the support of the health improvement advisor (e.g. through quick-needs analysis, learning walks, conversations with staff)
  • Schools to identify activities to audit selected component(s)

iMHARS audit (£)

  • School to plan and arrange focus groups, interviews and observations using the iMHARS timeline as a guide
  • School to conduct the iMHARS audit (Each component takes approx. 1.5 days to audit)
  • For Islington and Camden schools, the audit will be carried out by the health improvement advisors, who will spend 1-2 days in school per component
  • Member of senior leadership team to allocate around 30 minutes of meeting time per week with the iMHARS lead to discuss the progress of the audit

iMHARS audit (£)

  • iMHARS lead will draft research notes, and short reports for each component, based on information gathered
  • In Islington and Camden, the writing up will be done by the health improvement advisors
  • Member of senior leadership team to read and consider the school's strengths, challenges and next steps for each component audited
  • Health improvement advisors and school, to discuss and agree the strengths, challenges and areas for improvement

iMHARS audit (£)

  • Senior leadership will share the finalised short reports with the school community
  • School to implement whole-school changes based on next steps from short reports
  • In Camden and Islington, support is available to help the implementation of next steps
  • School encouraged to attend the iMHARS network meeting to share learning with other schools

iMHARS audit (£)

Find resources for each stage in the iMHARS Collaborative Audit (£)

iMHARS Collaborative Audit (£)

If you're denied access and would like to purchase the resource to use in your organisation, please contact us. See the iMHARS model of support for information on pricing.

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How was iMHARS developed?

The inspiration for iMHARS came while thinking about why schools pick particular interventions; what they aim to achieve and how they monitor them. Resilience programmes, mindfulness lessons, nurture groups and therapy services are becoming increasingly popular and widespread, but how do schools decide which to use and are they clear about what difference they want to make / the impact they want to see and whether a particular programme meets that need? iMHARS helps schools to identify the areas for improvement and plan steps that will best meet their needs, before putting measures in place.

iMHARS was informed by NICE’s guidance on promoting social and emotional wellbeing in education. It draws on the evidence from Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset, boingboing’s resilience framework, the Hands on Scotland toolkit and Young Minds work with schools. It is refined on an ongoing basis while consulting with Islington schools.

All the evidence suggests that a whole school approach is the most effective way of improving mental health and wellbeing in schools. Using the guidance, and consulting with Islington schools, we identified the areas of school life that best support pupils’ mental health and resilience.

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How iMHARS makes a difference

The key principle behind iMHARS is to understand exactly what is happening in a school before making any changes. Often, those changes don’t cost money, and minor tweaking of systems can render huge results. Even the very nature of asking staff and pupils questions during the research stage, creates an awareness and begins to shift mindsets. The iMHARS framework demonstrates how much schools can do to protect mental health and helps staff to understand the impact of their role. It encourages schools to use specialist agencies for their expertise and guidance as part of the solution, but to also consider the impact of how they respond to pupils’ emotional needs, and what is in place for pupils across the whole school: to think about small, simple changes that could make a big difference.

iMHARS components

Support for mental health and resilience is most effective when embedded in the school culture and applied consistently across the whole school community. Children and adults learn new ways of interacting, thinking and behaving when they observe and experience these consistently – from the classroom to the playground, at staff meetings, events and afterschool clubs. Everyone benefits from this approach, and resilience breeds resilience: a resilient community enhances the resilience of its individuals and vice versa.

What schools say?

  • The evaluative process has been extremely useful. The evidence base is so wide, and carefully assembled in a way that we would otherwise find virtually impossible as a school – we simply don’t have the skills, framework, capacity or, of course, the impartiality that IMHARS provides.

  • Working together allowed for a sounding board on the processes in school and independent view of the schools systems

  • Being introduced to the iMHARS framework clarified our thinking and gave us a structure which all the staff understood and supported. The approach gave us focus and a common vocabulary for us all to use in discussions.

  • The structure of it has brought everything together. The findings will become our wellbeing strategy

  • An incredibly useful and simple process that has given us immediate actions

100% of schools say they would recommend iMHARS to another school

  • 'Absolutely – really thorough coverage of all areas. The framework puts classroom practice and culture at its heart, rather than approaching pastoral care as something separate. Learning itself becomes the context for establishing and developing emotional well-being – in my opinion, a critical position to take in supporting children and young people to become resilient lifelong learners', Islington Primary Head teacher

  • 'Yes, and it gives you a comprehensive view of your schools systems for early identification and the role of all staff in supporting student wellbeing', Islington Secondary Assistant head teacher

  • 'Definitely – the iMHARs approach and the support provided has been invaluable', Islington Primary Assistant head teacher

  • 'iMHARS helped to identify areas we can work on for a happier group of staff', Islington Secondary Assistant head teacher

  • 'Yes, I would recommend iMHARS to another school because of the thorough assessment they conduct and the support they give in making plans for future improvements to your school’s mental health', Islington Primary Head teacher

Case Study

Elizabeth Garret Anderson, Islington

Elizabeth Garret Anderson (EGA), an all-girls secondary school was one of the five schools to pilot iMHARS in 2015/16. The school’s intention was to test their self-evaluation and gain an external perspective. The findings mirrored their areas of concern, and prompted them to develop a ‘Commitment to Community’ initiative to sit alongside their ‘Commitment to Learning’. This addressed concerns raised over pupils’ self-regulation in social times, balance between group identity and school identity and pupils taking responsibility for their actions.

Tina Southall, Associate head of EGA said they found the collaborative audit process very straight-forward and supportive. For them, it stimulated thinking and discussion.  The impact of their ‘Commitment to Community’ initiative has both improved social time and how pupils accept responsibility.