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Mental Health in Primary Schools - MHiPS

  • Good mental health in children is fundamental to their development. It helps children to learn well and enjoy life. Unfortunately, not all children have what they need to support their mental health.

    Schools are an ideal platform for promoting children’s mental health, identifying early signs of mental health concerns, and supporting referrals to community-based mental health services when necessary.

    Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) is a new model of school mental health support. The project trains experienced teachers to become Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinators in primary schools.

    Mental Health in Primary Schools identifier

    Children's mental health in primary schools

    Good mental health supports children in building positive thinking, emotional, behavioural and communication skills, and healthy relationships with family and friends. Having good mental health means having a positive sense of wellbeing, being able to cope with challenges and realise individual potential. This is just as important for children as it is for adults.

    In Australia, over 8 per cent of children aged 4-11 years have a diagnosed mental health disorder, and 20 per cent of children experience mental health difficulties that impact daily living.

    Mental health and wellbeing in primary school aged children is particularly complex. It can be difficult and overwhelming for teachers and parents to respond to the increasing prevalence and severity of mental health issues in the classroom, and understand how and where to access help for children that require additional support.

    About MHiPS

    In 2020 the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) partnered with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) at the University of Melbourne to conceptualise the MHiPS initiative to build the capacity of schools to support the mental health and wellbeing of students.

    In partnership with the Department of Education (DE)  Victoria, in early 2020 an extensive exploratory phase was undertaken which included:

    • consultation with domestic and international experts regarding current attempts at supporting child mental health in an education context;

    • a needs analysis where the views of Victorian educators on barriers and enablers to support student mental health were canvassed via survey and focus groups;

    • codesign sessions with staff from 10 pilot primary schools to obtain feedback on a draft Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator (MHWC) model and plans that had been developed for implementation.

    Participating pilot schools received funding from DE to employ a MHWC to implement a whole- school approach to mental health and wellbeing, and to build the capacity of primary school staff to identify and respond to student mental health issues. The MHWC, a qualified teacher, took up their role following participation in a comprehensive training program; they also received ongoing support and professional development through a structured Communities of Practice process. The role and the training program combined to form the “MHWC model”.

    Known as the Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) Pilot, implementation and evaluation of the MHWC model was initiated in the 2020 school year in 10 Victorian government schools.

    In 2021, funding from the Victorian Government and the Ian Potter Foundation enabled expansion of the MHiPS pilot to an additional 16 schools (see Darling, et al., 2021) [6]. The Final Report from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (2021) [7] recommended that the MHWC model be expanded further should it prove to be effective, and in response the Victorian Government committed to a further expansion of the pilot to 100 schools in 2022.   The 2022 expansion included 10 Catholic primary schools and 3 non-mainstream school settings, including 2 specialist schools and 1 English Language (EAL) school.

    In June 2022 the Victorian Minister for Education and Mental Health announced there would be a $200 million investment to support the statewide expansion of the MHiPS program to all government, and low-fee non-government primary schools from 2023 to 2026.

    The Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator model

    The Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator (MHWC) role and the training program combined to form the Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator model. 


    The Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator role

    The MHWC is employed and funded a full-time equivalency. To be recruited for the role the MHWC should have a teaching qualification. The MHWC receives evidence-based training around supporting the mental health needs of primary school students.  The role of the MHWC is to build the capability of the whole school regarding student mental health and wellbeing (identification, promotion and prevention).  Specifically, the MHWC role includes the following responsibilities:

    • Promote a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing to students, staff and families
    • Support teachers and school staff to expand their capacity to embed evidence-based mental health strategies, interventions and programs and build mental health literacy to identify and support primary school students with mental health concerns.
    • Coordinate clear referral pathways internally (within school) and externally (to community services) for students identified as requiring further assessment and intervention.
    • Proactively work with and support regional staff, school wellbeing and leadership teams, teachers, parents/carers and other external agencies to coordinate targeted mental health support for primary school students.
    • Contribute to the school’s existing wellbeing team

    The rationale for using a qualified teacher in the role is based on three key factors: the nature of the required support, resourcing needs in schools, and achieving strong implementation of the model. 

    The Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator training program

    The MHiPS Training Program comprises an induction session, four core modules: Mental Health Literacy, Building Capacity, Supporting Need, and a Community of Practice, with a combination of synchronous seminars, asynchronous online learning and on the job experiences.

    The instructional design and delivery methods are based around a participant centred, problem-solving approach that preferences teaching the ‘doing’ of the role over ‘telling’ participants what they need to know. It draws on the learner’s existing knowledge and experiences to support contextual adaptation and differentiated learning. The training is also couched in a collaborative framework where self and peer evaluative and reflective practice is embedded both during and post-training. This approach develops and builds professional judgment and reasoning skills.


    The ongoing research component of the MHiPS program examines the implementation and effectiveness of having a trained Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator within primary schools.

    During the pilot phase, it investigated the feasibility and acceptability of the training program and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator role. The ongoing evaluation of MHiPS is a multi-method (qualitative and quantitative data), multi-site and multi- informant (MHWCs, school leaders, teachers, other school staff, DET regional and/or central staff, parents/carers, students) design.

    The evaluation is designed to assess whether the MHWC model increases teachers’ confidence to support student mental health and wellbeing and builds the capacity of primary schools to improve student mental health and wellbeing through increased mental health literacy and access to supports and services.  


    Supporting primary students' mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 and its impacts

    • Panellists: Panellists: Professor Frank Oberklaid, Professor Jennie Hudson, Associate Professor Emma Sciberras, Julie Gilbert
    • Date: 17 November 2021

    The webinar explored primary students' mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 and its impacts. 

    Children's mental health: how primary schools are supporting children's positive mental health

    • Panellists: Professor Frank Oberklaid, Dr Jon Quach, Dr Georgia Dawson and Gita Peterson. 
    • Date: 11 October 2021

    This webinar was part of the Thriving Children, Thriving Communities series. It described the Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) project – which places a trained Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator as an additional resource in primary schools.


    Prof Frank Oberklaid presented at the IPSHA National Conference in Adelaide on May 28, 2022. Take a look at his presentation

    The future 

    MHiPS is making history. The project received $200 million in state funding to support 1800 Victorian primary schools to build their capacity in mental health. This is the largest amount of funding ever pledged for student mental health in Australia.

    The funding boost was announced on June 21, 2022, by the Andrews Labor Government. The funding will enable MHiPS, initially piloted in 100 schools with success, to scale to every government and low-fee non-government primary school in the state. The scale-up will occur from 2023-2026. More information here

    The announcement reported that The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System helped to raise awareness of the role schools can play in supporting children’s mental health.

    “The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System highlighted that schools play an important role in identifying children with mental health and wellbeing challenges who can then be referred to treatment, care and support if needed.”

    The MHiPS model helps to build primary school teachers’ confidence and skills in identifying children with mental health concerns and helps establish clear pathways for children who need referrals for assessment, intervention, monitoring and evaluation.

    Feedback from the MHiPS pilot suggested that more than 95% of leaders believe the MHiPS model improved their school’s capacity to support student’s mental health.

    Contact MHiPS

    For further information about the MHiPS program, check out the MHiPS website or email us at


Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.