Case Study

Mental Health Services and School Links Pilot Evaluation

Client: Department of Education | Sectors: Social Policy

In summer 2015, NHS England and the Department for Education (DfE) jointly launched the Mental Health Services and Schools Link Pilots. The pilot programme was developed in response to the report of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce, which outlined a priority to improve joint working between schools and specialist Children and Young People Mental Health Services (CYPMHS). 

In September 2015, we were commissioned by the DfE to undertake an independent evaluation of the pilot programme, covering 22 local areas and 255 schools in England. The evaluation aimed to assess the effectiveness and outcomes of the pilots, and to provide evidence to inform national policy development in this area. 

The work took place over one year, and involved a comprehensive approach including survey research with schools and health services, workshop observations and in depth case study visits. We worked closely with Government, the national delivery partner – the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (AFNCCF), schools and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) throughout, and provided ongoing feedback to help schools and health services to benchmark and to develop their practice. 

Overall, the evaluation found that the pilots had considerable success in strengthening communication and joint working arrangements between schools and specialist health services. This was often the case even where relationships were said to have been weak at the start of the pilot programme, although the extent of change varied between areas. We presented a set of 12 critical success factors for effective joint working, as well as showcasing good practices in an accessible format for schools and health services.

The final report from the evaluation was published as part of the Government Social Research (GSR) series, and we supported NHS England and the DfE to disseminate the findings at two national events in Leeds and London. The recommendations from the report directly informed the decision by the Department for Education to commission an expanded programme with a focus on scaling and sustainability at a local area level. 

Laurie Day, lead for the national evaluation at Ecorys, said:

“Our evaluation showed the clear importance of establishing a direct dialogue and clear protocols between schools and specialist mental health services. While some areas already had effective communication channels in place before the pilot, others had become stuck. This had often resulted in young people being referred inappropriately, unnecessary delays, and mistrust between professionals.

Having a lead point of contact meant that joint working was relationship-based and got beyond a culture of indirect communication. School staff often reported improved confidence in supporting children with mental health issues, and health professionals were able to gain a better understanding of the challenges experienced by teachers in a school environment. 

The key recommendation was around exploring how best to scale-up this model so that all schools within a given local area are able to benefit, and to develop stronger local networks of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services. This is a central focus of the expanded programme, which was launched by the Department in autumn 2017.” 

Key Experts

Diarmid Campbell-Jack Senior Research Manager