• Wellbeing in schools: How can school leaders respond to the fact that one in eight students experience mental health issues?

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    Bernard Canetti (pictured, above), Principal of Brampton College, London’s highest achieving independent sixth form college gives his opinion on the government’s plan to dedicate an additional £31.6 million to the training of more educational psychologists and the need for a proactive holistic approach to wellbeing in schools…

    With one in eight 5 to 19-year-olds experiencing at least one “mental health” disorder, according to results published last year by the NHS[1], I, along with many of my fellow teaching professionals, welcome the Government’s plan to dedicate an additional £31.6 million to the training of more educational psychologists[2]

    The pressure on young people today is huge and over the past ten years I have witnessed an increasing number of students suffering from anxiety and other psychological issues. Adolescence is an inherently difficult time and recently the problems have been compounded by the constant access to the internet, social media and the pressure of exams. This is widely recognised as a significant problem affecting not only pupils and schools but the support services too. 

    So whilst I would applaud the Government’s commitment to increase spending on training qualified educational psychologists, I would call for an even greater and more holistic approach to tackling student wellbeing, which takes a pro-active and preventative approach to the psychological wellbeing of students rather than relying on interventions at crisis point. 

    I believe it’s critical that all schools receive support to implement school wide initiatives which help promote and support wellbeing. More than ever, it’s profoundly important that schools present an environment where students feel their teachers are concerned about them as individuals, take them seriously and believe in them. 

    An important authority on this subject, Sir Anthony Seldon has voiced his opinion on the need for government to take student wellbeing seriously. A leading headteacher for 20 years, he has called on government to introduce a Wellbeing League Table for schools on a par with its Exam League Table. At a recent conference he commented, “The evidence is clear that wellbeing interventions… allow students and young people to cope best with problems… schools that prioritise wellbeing, which includes challenging and stretching students, also build character and help them to perform better than those schools which are simply exam factories.” I couldn’t agree more!     

    So what measures can schools put in place which actively encourage a whole-school approach to wellbeing?

    It is a misconception that a commitment to student wellbeing comes at the expense of strong academic results. In fact the two are intrinsically linked. At Brampton, we are delighted to have achieved our 18th year at the top of London’s league tables, however whilst academic achievement is crucial for our students, looking after their psychological wellbeing and developing self-belief, confidence and resilience is equally valued. 

    This ethos has driven our approach at Brampton for many years. As well as assigning a personal tutor to provide personal and academic support to each pupil, the college has a Student Counsellor, an Educational Psychologist and a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, trained at the Tavistock (under Emil Jackson, who is head of the Child and Adolescent Unit at the Tavistock), to provide guidance and support to staff, as well as students and parents. 

    We are launching a new initiative this year called ‘Creating Community Conversations’, which will be delivered to students via the weekly personal tutor sessions.  The programme has been designed to allow students time to reflect upon a wide range of issues and challenges in their day-to-day lives.  For example, the first module “Fresh Start” encourages all members of the Brampton community to develop a ‘Growth Mindset’, as well as providing resources and powerful advice that might help individuals when dealing with anxiety, confidence issues and challenges related to organisation. ‘Taking care of ourselves’ is the theme for the second module, where community members will explore mindfulness and meditation techniques, as well as examining the power of gratitude in their daily lives. This initiative is in addition to a series of wellbeing workshops, involving team building activities which explore ways to develop a positive attitude and emotional resilience. 

    Building a good relationship with parents is also key. For the past few years, we have been holding a series of talks for parents from leading figures in childhood and adolescent psychology. Their perspective and advice on how best to support children or cope with challenging behaviour has been incredibly well received.  

    Our strong academic results stand testament to the school’s dual approach to wellbeing and studies. When students leave our college feeling happy and confident then we know we have achieved real success.

    [1] https://digital.nhs.uk/news-and-events/latest-news/one-in-eight-of-five-to-19-year-olds-had-a-mental-disorder-in-2017-major-new-survey-finds

    [2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/multi-million-pound-fund-to-train-more-educational-psychologists-in-schools


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