Children with learning disabilities are four times more likely to have mental health problems than their mainstream peers (Emerson and Hatton, 2007), while the UK Government’s 2017 Green Paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, states that over half of all mental health problems emerge before the age of 14 years. It is critical to identify and address areas of social, emotional and mental health need for these children and young people as early as possible. The Green Paper also notes:
“There is evidence that appropriately-trained and supported staff such as teachers, school nurses, counsellors, and teaching assistants can achieve results comparable to those achieved by trained therapists in delivering a number of interventions addressing mild to moderate mental health problems.” (p. 38)
In response, Beyond Words has embarked on the Open Book project – a two-year funded pilot scheme working with 22 special schools across the UK, training teachers in how the Beyond Words books and approach can empower, inform and support emotional development, safe relationships and confident decision-making for their pupils.
For those unfamiliar with Beyond Words, the not-for-profit organisation publishes wordless picture stories that address a huge range of subjects, such as health, relationships, bereavement and employment. Without such resources, important conversations are often avoided for lack of confidence in how to address them.
Vision for the project
To empower, to inform and to support emotional development, safe relationships and confident decision-making for young people with learning difficulties and autism
To empower teachers by giving them the resources and forum in which to support children in these areas
To empower, to inform and to support decision-making to ensure the safeguarding of vulnerable children and young people with learning disabilities and autism from the risks and effects of abuse
The project is being led by Professor Barry Carpenter CBE, OBE and Project Manager Jo Egerton. Beyond Words Chair and Founder Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins is also acting as Project Convenor.
Schools taking part in the project are receiving Beyond Words resources, as well as training and support in using them. Over the course of the project, the schools are invited to share their experiences of how incorporating Books Beyond Words has helped them to support the social, emotional and mental health of their pupils.
Already, schools have responded enthusiastically. One lead teacher said, “We have loved [this project] so far – it has been fantastic!” Another, speaking of an autistic girl who struggles with communication, recounted, “When we did the first book…she sat with them, and I’ve never had such an amazing session. She was sat with the TA, and was communicating to her.”
The project started up in December 2018, when schools received training in how to support pupils using Beyond Words books. Since then, the schools have been using the Books Beyond Words series to support whole class social, emotional and mental health, primarily through running book clubs with the children.
Once pupils are familiar with the book club set-up, and teaching staff are confident handling the resources, staff will then support small book groups to read and share stories around a specific mental health focus of their choice.
Case study feedback from each school will be compiled to form a portfolio of evidence that will demonstrate the effectiveness of incorporating wordless stories into the curriculum to support children’s SEMH. All the learning from the project will be shared widely to help more schools up and down the country to embed these valuable resources in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.
For more information on the project, please email Jo Egerton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Department for Education/Department of Health (2017) Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision (Green Paper). London: DfE.
Emerson, E. and Hatton, C. (2007) The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents with Learning Disabilities in Britain. London: Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities/ Lancaster University.