National award for Stoke mental health project

National recognition for Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form to improve mental health

A mental health and wellbeing project to support sixth form and college students in Stoke-on-Trent has been recognised with a national award.

Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and Stoke-on-Trent College identified a gap in early intervention support for students and created an Emotional Wellbeing Service with £120,000 funding from the Opportunity Area programme.

The project beat off national competition to win the Sixth Form College Association’s 2021 Award in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Category on Wednesday (16 June 2021).

Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas, said: “I am proud that this important project in Stoke-on-Trent is being recognised, and I hope that its success continues as we expand our Opportunity Area programme into a fifth year, with early intervention for even more students so they stay engaged in their education and thrive.

“We know that wellbeing and academic success often go hand in hand which is why innovative projects like this are vital as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Both colleges found that high numbers of students were presenting to counselling service and safeguarding teams and they wanted to step in with support earlier for issues such as low self-esteem, motivation, healthy relationships and trauma.

The project has helped to fund Emotional Wellbeing Workers to carry out initial assessments, identify goals and empower students with strategies such as mindfulness.

They also deliver drop-in sessions, one-to-one intervention and facilitate peer support groups such as the ‘Female Empower Hour’ to build self-esteem, so that students can access support appropriate to their needs including help dealing with any issues that arose from the pandemic.

There was high demand from students for the drop-in sessions; during the Autumn 2020 term, the service was used 86 times across the two colleges.

Project lead Joanna Finn, from Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, said: “A student may be having a bad day, experiencing a low mood, with low levels of motivation. They visit the drop-in service, speak to an Emotional Wellbeing Worker and leave feeling better for having spoken to someone. 

“This could be a 10-minute intervention and that student is not seen within the service again. It is this early engagement and offer of support which has made a real difference to student wellbeing.”

It also helps them to stay engaged in their studies so they can reach their potential and gain the skills they need to get the jobs they want. By the end of the academic year, data showed a significant decrease in the number of counselling referrals.

Co-Chair of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Areas, Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL said: “At a time when young people are facing major challenges it is crucial that they are able to access the support that they need to manage their mental health. It is fantastic to see how the OA has been able to contribute to the implementation of this great initiative in Stoke VI form College that has been so well received by their students. Well done to the team”

Further funding for this project has been approved for Year 5 of the Opportunity Area programme, extending its reach beyond the two colleges within the city to include sixth forms within schools and training providers.

Further information:

  • The ‘Joint Strategic Needs Assessment’ (JSNA) report published in April 2017 found that young people living with mental health conditions are less likely to reach their full academic potential, are more likely to drop out of education, employment or training, and are more likely to become known to the youth justice system.
  • Both colleges adopted the THRIVE Framework for system change, which is an integrated, person-centred and needs-led approach to delivering mental health services for children, young people and their families.
  • By the end of the academic year, data showed a significant decrease in the number of counselling referrals. Across both colleges, there were 193 referrals to counselling reported for the 2019/20 academic year compared to 495 during 2018/19.
  • Missed initial appointments also decreased over the course of the project.
  • There was a continued 30% of safeguarding referrals, several were identified via Emotional Wellbeing or Counselling.
  • At the close of the project in December 2020, counselling referrals were much lower across the two colleges.
  • Students’ Core Scores, indicating their level of psychological distress, had decreased by 9.75 points, indicating a positive improvement in their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Data was collated throughout the project to assess the number of students accessing one-to-one interventions and drop-in sessions. There were 436 interventions with students across the two colleges over the course of the project.
 1:1 interventionDrop-in
Stoke College9577
Sixth Form99165
Total194242
  • The project lead also noted further positive impacts from the project;
    • the impact the Emotional Wellbeing Service has had on staff and students in creating a supportive, open environment for mental health and wellbeing to be discussed,
    • the peer support groups that have been established for students, and
    • the space for students to observe and manage their own self-care.

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