Hundreds of children and young people will learn how to use a range of innovative techniques to promote good mental health through one of the largest studies in the world of its kind.

To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, the Education Secretary Damian Hinds announces that up to 370 schools in England will take part in a series of trials testing different approaches to supporting young people’s mental health.

Children will benefit from mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to help them regulate their emotions, alongside pupil sessions with mental health experts. The study will run until 2021 and aims to give schools new, robust evidence about what works best for their students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Mr Hinds also confirmed the nine areas across the country that will trial new high-quality mental health assessments for young people entering care, helping them get the support they need to meet their individual needs at a time when they are more vulnerable.

Led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London, the school study is now in its second wave and recruiting more primary and secondary schools to join.

The trials are designed to explore the impact of different approaches at school, in recognition of the significant time children spend at school and the important role teachers can play in recognising changes in pupils’ behaviour or mood.

To explore what works in schools to support young people’s mental well-being, the trials will test five different approaches. These include:

  • Two approaches focused on increasing awareness in secondary schools through short information sessions either led by a specialist instructor or by trained teachers. These include a set of tools to increase understanding of mental health and mental disorders among both pupils and teachers.
  • Three approaches in primary and secondary schools that focus on lighter-touch approaches such as exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques and recognising the importance of support networks including among their own peers.

The mental health assessment pilots, also run by the Anna Freud Centre, will look at providing improved mental health assessments for children entering the care system. Currently an estimated half of all children in care meet the criteria for a possible mental health disorder, compared to one in ten children outside the care system, so these pilots – backed by £1 million announced last year – will identify the mental health and broader wellbeing needs of these children, including whether a referral to a more specialist service is needed.

The areas include two of the Government’s Opportunity Areas Doncaster and the North Yorkshire Coast, where the programme will examine which professionals should be involved in the assessment and develop best practice that ensures every child’s individual needs are at the centre of the process.

The announcements build on the Government’s wider investment in support for children’s mental health in schools, including bringing in specialist support teams with the mental health trailblazers programme, to ensure every young person is given the tools to thrive despite challenges they may face growing up.