Link Programme

NHS England and NHS Improvement supported the Mental Health Services and Schools and Colleges Link Programme which brought together education and mental health services under the leadership of Local Authorities (LAs) and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to forge joint working and ensure long-term collaboration.

In response to Future in Mind, NHS England and the Department for Education jointly launched the Mental Health Services and Schools Link Pilots in 2015. The programme was successfully piloted in 255 schools and children and young people’s mental health (CYPMH) services, across 27 CCGs in England (2015-2016) and independently evaluated.

The 2018 government response to the consultation on the Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision Green Paper committed to rolling out the Link Programme nationally. In June 2019 The Link Programme contract was awarded to the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and national roll out to local areas commenced in October 2019.  The original Link Programme aimed to improve joint working on mental health and wellbeing between local NHS mental health services, schools and colleges, local specialist NHS CYPMH services, LAs, and voluntary and community sector (VCS) services.

The original programme was delivered through two workshops, in which attendees;

  • explored how education and health are currently working together;
  • developed knowledge of mental health problems seen by specialist NHS services and by schools and colleges;
  • reflected on how they currently manage mental health issues;
  • and built knowledge on the purpose of, and methods for, measuring wellbeing.

Independent evaluations of the pilot and phase 2 have shown that the Link Programme has:

  • Strengthened communication and joint working between schools and CYPMH services
  • Improved awareness and knowledge of risk factors and mental health issues relating to children and young people.
  • Improved understanding of mental health services, referral routes and procedures, and in some cases has resulted in the development of new referral procedures.
  • Enabled action planning and catalysed wider change.
  • Provided a better understanding of evidence-based practice.

In May 2021, the Link Programme relaunched as an offer of free, bespoke facilitation for local strategic leaders, to be delivered completely online.

The reformed Link Programme encouraged local stakeholders, such as heads of service, senior managers and service leads from across the education, health, local authority and VCS services to come together at a strategic level, where improvement in joint working was needed most, to identify and work towards joint working priorities and goals that will lead to lasting and sustained improvements in partnership working on mental health and wellbeing.

The Department for Education’s contract with the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families to deliver the Link Programme expired on 31 March 2022, bringing a conclusion to the programme.

Over 3,000 schools and colleges across the country have benefited from the programme since it began in 2015, including throughout the pandemic. The Department is continuing to work with local leaders to explore alternative ways of facilitating effective partnership working, building on the learning from the Link Programme.

They remain committed to offering senior mental health lead training to all state schools and colleges by 2025, and to rolling out mental health support teams to 35% of the country by 2023, both of which will build on the achievements of the Link Programme and empower school leaders to better understand and work with the local system around them.