Revolutionising mental health in schools and colleges for generations to come
Partner spotlight | Dean Johnstone, Minds Ahead
Dean Johnstone founded Minds Ahead in 2017 to address mental health exclusively from a school perspective. As a Community Interest Company, Minds Ahead employs enterprising methods to bring about social improvements. Central to this approach is their lasting partnership with the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University. Here Dean tells us about the partnership with Carnegie School of Education and the benefits of it.
- Spotlight partner: Dean Johnstone, Minds Ahead
- Other partners: Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools
Tell us a bit about your organisation and what led you to working with the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools?
Colleagues at the School of Education saw the need to do something to address mental health within schools and colleges. Like us, they knew how mental health issues were holding too many children back from fulfilling their full potential and that something needed to be done. We worked in partnership with the Carnegie School of Education to establish a new approach to mental health within schools and colleges, driven by a unified objective to support schools to lead this agenda.
We set about creating evidence-informed frameworks which were written specifically for schools. We met with pioneering school leaders of mental health and provided the support they needed to apply and manage the frameworks for mental health within their own setting. Together, we learnt from them what they valued, what they didn’t value and what was missing to enhance their work. We then used this research to create new services to support schools, which have since benefited thousands of schools within the UK and globally.
What I saw from Carnegie School of Education was not only an awareness of the need, but a passion to make improvements which can be led from within schools and colleges. It was a unique match between a drive for social justice and a desire to bring about lasting improvements.
Why were you passionate about this project and why is it important to the work you already do?
I had seen that both the USA and Canada had university centres for mental health in schools, but there wasn’t one in the UK until the launch of the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools.
Since the launch of this innovative school, our partnership with Carnegie School of Education has progressed quickly, and it’s clear our partnership will be a lasting one.
Working with Leeds Beckett colleagues from the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools, we are able to bring about lasting change which improves mental health within all schools, not only those that we work with directly. The existence of this centre in the UK is of benefit to the whole education system. It raises the profile of the issue, brings status, increases research in the area, gives a powerful voice to school leaders working within mental health, and, most importantly, remains committed to ensuring evidence-based improvements are made.
As a micro-enterprise, and a new start-up, working with Leeds Beckett also brought credibility to our own activities and ensured a reliable work stream. They have challenged and supported us in equal measure.
What have you enjoyed most about this collaboration?
I suppose it could be captured by three Ps – people, passion and partnership.
People is the main one. I have developed trusting and much valued relationships with many people at Leeds Beckett. I am impressed by their wanting to support improvements, willingness to listen, and genuine care and compassion. On my visits to the campus, it was always a pleasure to bump into colleagues, I felt like one of their team and got a buzz from these interactions. Through working with Leeds Beckett, I have also formed good relationships with so many inspiring school leaders from around the world, which I am so grateful for.
The passion for social justice shines through everything. I enjoy learning new perspectives on ideas from racism, transphobia, social inclusion, mental health and others. Working with Leeds Beckett has made me reflect on my views and actions, and has inspired me to do things differently. This has made me more self-aware and strengthened the work of Minds Ahead.
I have always felt like a true partner. Minds Ahead is a little speck compared to a large organisation like Leeds Beckett, but I was never made to feel less than equal. Colleagues would accommodate our requests, seek our views and genuinely work in partnership. I always felt valued.
What have you learnt through this project and what’s next for Minds Ahead?
I have learnt so much. I think the biggest learning is that anything is possible. Setting up a new business is daunting and a big risk for anyone. I do not think that I would have done it without Leeds Beckett forming a partnership at the very early stages, certainly it would not have grown as quickly. Through working together, I have learnt that if the idea is right and it is tested with the customer – schools in our case – it can work. Having a major organisation like Leeds Beckett support with this process was gold dust.
We are deepening our work with Leeds Beckett by launching another new programme – the School Mental Health Specialist – which Leeds Beckett will accredit as a postgraduate diploma. Just like our other provision and activities, this is an innovative programme which is new to the UK, but which school leaders have said they want. In addition, we are also jointly developing additional projects, all aimed at supporting schools to lead mental health themselves. As ever, we are using the latest evidence and it is all focused on tackling those social injustices.
Dean Johnstone founded Minds Ahead in 2017 to address mental health exclusively from a school perspective. As a Community Interest Company, Minds Ahead employs enterprising methods to bring about social improvements. Central to this approach is their lasting partnership with the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.