Like many schools, at Malvern St James’ Girls School (MSJ) we noticed a rise in mental health concerns as pupils returned to face-to-face learning after lockdown. Although for some, the effects of the pandemic were short-lived, for others the impact upon mental health has been considerable, necessitating a review of the wellbeing provision in school.
Developing a wellbeing programme and hub
The school counsellor supports pupils with a focus on developing skills to navigate times of stress or sadness. But wanting to expand our service, we have established The Hive, a dedicated wellbeing hub providing a comfortable welcoming space where pupils can enjoy some personal quiet down time or meet with one of the pastoral champions – pupils who have had training to enable them to support their peers. Others may see our wellbeing support officer, who runs focus groups addressing areas of need, or meets with individuals for a half hour; sometimes just a couple of sessions are all that is needed.
The impact on teachers and support staff who had to do so much during lockdown as well as dealing with the impactof Covid on their own family lives, was considerable. A great deal was asked of them and at MSJ, we know that the mental health of our staff is just as central to the wellbeing of the school community as it is for students.
Consequently, our staff wellbeing programme is growing. A staff wellbeing lead provides relevant positive signposting to all colleagues, as well as organising opportunities for staff to share well earned relaxation time. In response to the recent interest rate rises and energy crisis, a focus on practical ways to address the rise in living costs have been shared on a staff room notice board and we are continually working to develop our wellbeing offer for the MSJ workforce.
Moving away from ‘hugs and hankies’
We believe it is increasingly important to move the perception of pastoral care away from ‘hugs and hankies’ (although they have their place and should always be available) to supporting students to acquire personal accountability and confidence. This has led to a recent review of the form tutor and personal, social, health and economic education (PSHEEC) programmes to ensure that pupils are developing skills to take beyond school – mindfulness, healthy relationships, financial acumen, academic inquiry and much more.
Girls in the prep plan a market garden, whilst sixth formers explore the potential challenges which may arise at afestival; Year 10 role play different relationship scenarios, whilst Year 7 have a lesson in meditation.
Since the lifting of restrictions, we are inviting more guest speakers into school – recently pupils heard from inspirational poet Jasmine Gardosi, who performed her beat-box incorporated poetry about finding one’s voice from within the constraints of teenage anxiety – opportunities which add to the pupil experience whilst raising awarenessof mental health issues and how to overcome them.
Our school dog, Enzo provides the opportunity to ‘walk and talk’ with a member of the pastoral staff and this isproving to be a good way to encourage pupils to open up, especially those who struggle to voice their anxieties. Looking at the clouds or the grass, with a dog on the end of its lead, is often much more productive than sitting in a school office. Enzo is loved by the girls, who regard him as a comforting member of the school community known for listening patiently and guarding confidences.
Comment from ISA chief executive on the work of its members
The Malvern St James Girls’ School are part of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) via their head’s membership, and Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, chief executive Officer of ISA, wholly supports the initiatives to support mental health and wellbeing that are taking place across ISA members’ schools, of which there are soon to be over 600 across the UK and overseas.
“ISA members are dedicated to maintaining cultures that promote wellbeing for both staff and students. There are numerous examples of environments that are progressive in supporting mental health across the ISA.
“At The Unicorn their innovative integrated therapy approach has been tailored to the specialist needs of the students they care for and the outcomes are fantastic ─ school is an embracing, nurturing environment for young people who have been challenged with low self-esteem and anxiety during their time in education.
“Similarly, the team at another ISA school, Malvern St James Girls’ School, have cultivated a positive environment for their entire school community. The development of The Hive, their dedicated wellbeing hub for pupils, a growing pastoral care programme for staff and a reformed PSHEEC provision that develops mechanisms for pupils to take beyond school are all central to this.
“Over at DLD College London, significant steps have been taken to transform the cultural mindset surrounding mental health and wellbeing. Pastoral care strategies have been extended to become proactive, rather than just reactive. The focus on pupil voice has created a space which is empowering and supportive for students, staff and families.
“At ISA, fellowship has always been at the heart of what we do and this has allowed for a growing network of pastoral support for Heads and school staff to flourish for over 140 years. Crucially, these connections continue to provide us with the opportunity to share best practice in promoting wellbeing and supporting mental health across our entire membership and the wider education sector.”
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