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Making connections at the BrainWaves Inaugural Networking Day!

25th June 2024 marked our first ever Networking Day for the BrainWaves Research Schools and Colleges – a day that brought together a range of educational professionals all working towards the same goal: improving mental health outcomes and education for young people.

Held at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, the event was keenly attended by a range of pastoral and wellbeing leaders, as well as scientists and members of the BrainWaves team. The passion and enthusiasm from everyone involved helped make the day an invaluable and inspiring experience.

Real-life research

Professor Sarah Bauermeister, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford and Senior Scientist at BrainWaves, kicked off the day with an exciting first look at data collected during the pilot BrainWaves cohort study in April, when over 7,200 students aged 16-18 years completed a 40-minute questionnaire about their mental health.

The data collected is currently being analysed by scientists from the University of Oxford, but Professor Bauermeister’s discussion of preliminary findings ranged from time spent on social media to food bank use, risk of homelessness and bullying. We look forward to sharing more detailed analyses of the data in due course, as well as running the next Cohort Study data collection point in November 2024.

Mental health interventions: What works

During the day, an exciting range of professionals from within our Research Schools and Colleges shared information about some of the most impactful mental health interventions they have run in their schools.

Firstly, Kristan O’Flynn, Deputy Head of Post-16 at The Cooper School, discussed how using the BrainWaves lessons has had a far-reaching impact into other areas of the curriculum and outside of the classroom. In particular, Kristan described how the ‘Having a conversation about mental health‘ lesson for 16-18 year olds has “probably had the single biggest impact of a PSHE lesson I have taught in my time at school”, generating disclosures that would have gone under the radar otherwise and allowing the school to put interventions and support in place for students trying to cope with situations on their own.

Next up, Cathy Durrant, Head of Pastoral Support and Administration from Eastern Education Group shared her experience of ‘Walking Therapy’ – a mindful walking outdoors intervention aimed at high risk students, where students receive counselling from a trained counsellor whilst walking outdoors, whatever the weather. As a result of this therapy, out of the 80 students involved, the majority improved their scores based on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Health Scale and were reported as more positive and able to engage/re-engage with their academic studies.

To conclude, Gavin English, Deputy Head Pastoral at Alleyn’s School, spoke about how the PERMA model is scaffolded throughout his school as a preventative wellbeing approach and how the ‘Make it Happen’ space helps fulfil the difficult-to-achieve ‘Engagement’ and ‘Meaning’ elements of PERMA. By encouraging students to design activities that they want to see happen – from ‘The Swifty society’ to podcasts, journaling and even Lego sorting – the intervention encourages student-conceived and student-led extra-curricular activities that give hard-to-reach students agency and connection with what matters to them and their wellbeing.

Further professional development

As well as learning from one another, a range of other CPD sessions from guest speakers provided valuable insights into mental health education. Rachel Hart, Head of PSHE and Life Advice at Lady Eleanor Holles, led a CPD session on how to integrate wellbeing into a whole-school approach, whilst Julian Turner, Director of Education at BrainWaves, shared the science and pedagogical approaches behind the BrainWaves curriculum.

The highlight of the day though was the concluding session led by Stephen Murphy, headteacher at Malvern Wyche Primary School, and his inspirational view on how education, and the National Curriculum in particular, can be viewed as a therapeutic intervention in itself by simply incorporating wellbeing into each subject we teach.

Building a community

Our inaugural Networking Day marked a milestone in the development of our BrainWaves Research School community of dedicated professionals, committed to making students’ voices heard and shaping the lives of young people across the country.

To date, an incredible 42 institutions have signed up to become BrainWaves Research Schools/Colleges – including sixth form colleges, consortiums and specialist schools. Together, we are committed to shaping the future of adolescent mental health research and making a difference in the lives of young people.

Want to join our research community?

If you are interested in becoming a BrainWaves Research School or College and joining the University of Oxford in conducting mental health research in educational settings, then please contact our School Liaison team at to set up a conversation and find out more about our work!

About the author

Naomi French is a School Research Liaison Manager at BrainWaves, responsible for supporting schools on the BrainWaves Research Programme.  She was previously a year 6 class teacher and subject leader for PSHE.