iMHARS logoIslington mental health and resilience in schools (iMHARS)

The inspiration for Islington mental health and resilience in schools  (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? Do they know 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 is 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.

The iMHARS Framework

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

The iMHARS collaborative audit

iMHARS can be used in schools to do a collaborative audit. This involves researching current practice to 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. The audit is completed by the council’s health improvement consultant for mental health.

The five stages of the iMHARS collaborative audit are:

  1. Planning and preparation
  2. Select components
  3. Audit and measure
  4. Write up research notes and short reports
  5. Implement whole school change

If you would like to discuss how we can support your organisation or purchase the resources to use the audit, please contact us.

iMHARS resources to support pupil mental health and resilience

We also have resources to support all seven components of the iMHARS framework. If you would like to purchase the toolkit to use in your organisation, please contact us

How iMHARS makes a difference

The key principle behind iMHARS is to understand exactly what is happening in a school before making any changes. Often, those changes don’t cost money, and minor tweaking of systems can render huge results.

Even the very nature of asking staff and pupils questions during the research stage creates awareness and begins to shift mindsets.

The iMHARS framework demonstrates how much schools can do to protect mental health and helps staff understand the impact of their role.

It encourages schools to use specialist agencies for their expertise and guidance as part of the solution, but to also consider the impact of how they respond to pupils’ emotional needs, and what is in place for pupils across the whole school: to think about small, simple changes that could make a big difference.

Support for mental health and resilience is most effective when embedded in the school culture and applied consistently across the whole school community.

Children and adults learn new ways of interacting, thinking and behaving when they observe and experience these consistently – from the classroom to the playground, at staff meetings, events and afterschool clubs.

Everyone benefits from this approach, and resilience breeds resilience: a resilient community enhances the resilience of its individuals and vice versa.

What schools say

The evaluative process has been extremely useful. The evidence base is so wide, and carefully assembled in a way that we would otherwise find virtually impossible as a school – we simply don’t have the skills, framework, capacity or, of course, the impartiality that IMHARS provides.

Working together allowed for a sounding board on the processes in school and independent view of the schools systems

Being introduced to the iMHARS framework clarified our thinking and gave us a structure which all the staff understood and supported. The approach gave us focus and a common vocabulary for us all to use in discussions.

The structure of it has brought everything together. The findings will become our wellbeing strategy

An incredibly useful and simple process that has given us immediate actions

100% of schools say they would recommend iMHARS to another school

'Absolutely – really thorough coverage of all areas. The framework puts classroom practice and culture at its heart, rather than approaching pastoral care as something separate. Learning itself becomes the context for establishing and developing emotional well-being – in my opinion, a critical position to take in supporting children and young people to become resilient lifelong learners'

  • Islington Primary Head teacher

'Yes, and it gives you a comprehensive view of your schools systems for early identification and the role of all staff in supporting student wellbeing'

  • Islington Secondary Assistant head teacher

'Definitely – the iMHARs approach and the support provided has been invaluable'

  • Islington Primary Assistant head teacher

'iMHARS helped to identify areas we can work on for a happier group of staff'

  • Islington Secondary Assistant head teacher

'Yes, I would recommend iMHARS to another school because of the thorough assessment they conduct and the support they give in making plans for future improvements to your school’s mental health'

  • Islington Primary Head teacher


Case Study: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, Islington

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (EGA), an all-girls secondary school was one of the five schools to pilot iMHARS in 2015/16.

The school’s intention was to test their self-evaluation and gain an external perspective. The findings mirrored their areas of concern, and prompted them to develop a ‘Commitment to Community’ initiative to sit alongside their ‘Commitment to Learning’. This addressed concerns raised over pupils’ self-regulation in social times, balance between group identity and school identity and pupils taking responsibility for their actions. 

Tina Southall, Associate head of EGA said they found the collaborative audit process very straight-forward and supportive. For them, it stimulated thinking and discussion.  The impact of their ‘Commitment to Community’ initiative has both improved social time and how pupils accept responsibility.

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