Blog: Rapid Pilot at ESSA Academy – Assistant Principal Pastoral Lead Chris Airey

We have been lucky enough to be part of the Teaching School Alliance for Learning for a couple of years now. As well as great CPD & fantastic school to school support we have had the opportunity to be part of an innovative Mental Health Rapid Pilot.

I can only describe the pilot and in particular the MHFA training as eye-opening and enlightening. Despite being steeped in the myriad of issues surrounding pastoral care and having a general awareness of Mental Health issues, the staff who underwent the training were amazed at the depth of the issue. We were able to take so much from the training delivered by the Teaching School ‘Alliance for Learning a detailed introduction to mental health and really useful  statistics & practical advice that we have been able to include in our own training sessions. The billions of pounds lost to mental health issues and workforce absence is astonishing. The MHFA training has focused our Pastoral Team and as a direct result of this training we include mental health specifically in our weekly Pastoral Team meetings. We now have a designated member of staff who is a fully trained counsellor to pick up any concerns or MH issues at an early stage. We feel more confident in identifying MH issues and acting upon them.  As a result we reached to and worked with more students via our early intervention unit ‘Ivy Cottage’.

We now have Pastoral Briefings every week where we can discuss MH, alert staff to issues and increase vigilance and awareness around school.  This has resulted in a whole school ownership of MH.

We also now include the SEND Team in our weekly meetings due to the training. I feel it has also made us think more about the ‘grey middle’ who don’t always show the more obvious signs of MH problems. In short, it has made us take nothing for granted.

The training also made us look at staff needs and the effects of an incredibly stressful job on us a staff.  CPD has been tailored to staff wellbeing with a real drive on Team ESSA. There has been a palpable impact with a staff BBQ and other social events. I really feel there is more of an emphasis on team work and solutions rather than the ‘toxic staffroom’ and culture of complaining that some schools have.

The athlete mentor Neil Danns (former European skateboarding champ!) from Youth Sport Trust also had a huge impact on our students. He was enthusiastic, outgoing and incredibly funny and the students took to him straight away. To have such a streetwise and successful mentor was a real boost to our chosen students. I observed several of the sessions and I saw students’ confidence growing before my eyes. They were really keen for the follow up sessions to come around. These sessions were a real highlight.

We couldn’t attend the Etihad event because it clashed with our Sports Day. We were disappointed to miss out on this especially when the feedback from the schools that did attend was so positive.

Every element of the pilot working with Place 2 Be, 42nd Street & Youth Sport Trust with the teaching school made a really well blended package for us. I have to say that we, as an Academy, feel that the pilot has been a huge success and we would like to see it continue and develop.


Alliance for Learning
Cavendish Road, Bowdon
Altrincham WA14 2NL
Proud to part of the Bright Futures Education Trust