How can school leaders respond to the rise in pupils experiencing mental health issues?

Whilst academic achievement is crucial for our students, looking after their psychological wellbeing is equally valuable, says Bernard Canetti, principal of Brampton College

With one in eight young people aged five to 19 experiencing at least one mental health disorder, according to results published last year by the NHS, I, along with many of my fellow teaching professionals, welcome the Government’s plan to dedicate an additional £31.6m to the training of more educational psychologists.

The pressure on young people today is huge – over the past 10 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 support services, too.

So whilst I would applaud the Government’s commitment, I would call for an even greater and more holistic approach to tackling student wellbeing. One taking a proactive and preventative approach to the psychological wellbeing of students, rather than relying on interventions at crisis point.

Student support at Brampton College

I believe it is critical that all schools receive support to implement school-wide initiatives which help promote and support wellbeing. More than ever, it is 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 emphasised the need for Government to take student wellbeing seriously. A leading headteacher for 20 years, he has called for the introduction of a wellbeing league table for schools, on a par with its exam league table. At a recent conference he said: “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!

“It is profoundly important that schools present an environment where students feel their teachers are concerned about them as individuals”

What measures can schools put in place to 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. Yet, 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, to provide guidance and support to staff, as well as students and parents.

Related feature: By the time new Government RSE guidelines become mandatory, Solihull School’s wellbeing and personal development department will have been in place for two years

We are launching a new initiative this year called Creating Community Conversations, which will be delivered to students via their 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 or 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.

Pupils in the art room at Brampton College

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.

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