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New Mental Health Charter launched for college staff and students

Female student stressed

A new Mental Health Charter has been launched by the Association of Colleges (@AoC_info).

The charter, created by AoC in partnership with college leaders and senior mental health leads, is an updated version of the original published five years ago.

Research published by the NHS in November 2023 found that 20.3% of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder. Among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion was 23.3%, while in 20 to 25-year-olds it was 21.7%.

Colleges are central to supporting people with mental health – they educate and train 1.6 million people each year, including 608,000 young people.

AoC’s own research published in 2023 found that 95% of colleges said there had been a significant or slight increase of disclosed mental health difficulties among 16 to 18-year-olds. The research also found that 82% of colleges were encountering a significant number of students experiencing mental health difficulties without a formal disclosure.

The charter enables and supports colleges across England to affirm their commitment to staff and student mental health and wellbeing by signing up to the new good practice principles and standards.

Jen Hope, Senior Policy Lead (Mental Health) at Association of Colleges, said:

“It’s been five years since we first launched the first Mental Health Charter. It set a great foundation to ensure mental health and wellbeing is a priority issue for leaders and governors in our colleges, and the majority of colleges in England signed up.

“However, so much has happened since 2019, and the pressures on college services are higher than ever. It’s important that the charter is updated to remain fit for purpose.

“Our hope is that the charter will help colleges to reflect on their mental health policies and practice, and support them to embed a sustainable, whole-college approach to mental health and wellbeing.”

The original 11 principles remain but are now embedded across four themes that make up the new Mental Health Charter framework, underpinned by good practice principles and standards.

1. Leadership and ethos: Through authentic leadership, model and champion an inclusive culture that meets the needs of the college community. Embed a consistent and co-ordinated whole-college approach to mental health through effective governance and leadership, that ensures wellbeing permeates all aspects of college life.

2. Support for students: Foster a physically and psychologically safe and welcoming environment that promotes wellbeing and proactively supports students’ mental health throughout their learning journey.

3. Workplace wellbeing: Nurture a culture that supports and invests in people and their wellbeing and create an exceptional working environment where colleagues feel valued, supported and can thrive.

4. Evidence and impact: Deliver and develop services, policies and strategies which are responsive to research and evidence of lived experience and community need. Provide transparent accountability through consistent and effective mechanisms, regular evaluation and reporting, and ensure there is a partnership approach to college activity.

Each theme is clearly linked to the relevant Department for Education principles of a whole-college approach to mental health, and supplementary guidance on how to use the charter framework will be provided to colleges. 

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said:

“I am delighted to see that the Association of Colleges has launched this vital new charter, and I want to thank everyone in our brilliant further education sector for their work to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of staff and students.

“Mental health in education is now taken incredibly seriously across the board, and this new charter builds on the support we have offered to colleges, schools and universities to appoint mental health leads, provide funding where it’s needed and change the conversation on mental health.”

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