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 have been distilled from a wide body of evidence and have been developed and tested in Islington schools.

iMHARS can be used in schools to research current practice, 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.

Select 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 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 was been 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.