Whilst we had been driven by academic performance, we've realised that if our son's in an environment where he feels happy and safe to be himself, he will thrive, and that's what we all want.
Nine ways your child’s school can demonstrate that they support mental health and wellbeing
Even before the global pandemic, there was a growing recognition that children’s mental health and wellbeing was in decline. According to The Mental Health Foundation, depression affects more children today than it ever has in the last few decades.
So, how can you be sure that your child’s school is doing all it can to look after their mental health and wellbeing? Here are some of the key indicators to look out for:
1. Is there a ‘traffic light’ system for helping pupils who are struggling with mental health?
A traffic light system helps pastoral staff to share information on those children who may need extra support. This background information on the child is shared with academic and operational staff (confidentially and with the child’s permission) to ensure that everyone is aware of a particular pupil’s situation. This way, both pastoral and academic staff know which behaviours to look out for and actions to take, if necessary.
2. Does the school use tools to flag pupils who are at risk of mental health issues?
One example is AS Tracking, a social-emotional assessment tool which flags pupils and enables the school to put a plan in place to address them. This is an excellent tool for uncovering issues which children may be hiding. Unfortunately, for some, there is still some stigma around admitting that they are not OK.
3. Is there an onsite counselling service?
Most schools provide access to counselling services, but an onsite counselling service makes it so much easier to access. If your school does not provide a counseling service, you may need to question how seriously they take the mental health of their pupils.
4. Is there a peer mentoring programme?
Some schools give their Sixth Form students the opportunity to peer mentor the younger pupils, who often feel more comfortable talking through their problems with someone closer to their age, rather than a member of staff. These programmes help to create an ethos of care and kindness in the school.
5. Is there support for parents?
Quite often, parents struggle as much as their child to understand what is happening, let alone work out how to support them. Tools such as the Wellbeing Hub from TeenTips provide excellent, practical advice on how to support their children. At Pangbourne College, over 90% of parents have registered for the Wellbeing Hub and pupils also have access to the resource, which empowers them to look after their own mental health.
6. Is there an equal focus on physical as well as mental health?
According to a report from the Education Policy Institute and Prince’s Trust, frequency of exercise is a key factor affecting young people’s mental and emotional health. A school which encourages children to do sport and other physical activities on a frequent and regular basis, is more likely to help your child to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.
7. Does your child’s school help them to build resilience?
Prevention is always better than cure, so your child’s school should do as much as possible to help them develop positive strategies to take care of themselves and cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs. Activities which foster a strong sense of resilience; in other words, the ability to face, overcome and ultimately be strengthened by challenges, include The Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award and the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) Programme.
8. Is there a team of people responsible for your child’s wellbeing?
Schools which are a mix of day and boarding tend to do very well at this. The house structure means that every child belongs to a boarding house which is a place for them to go at break times, as well as before and after school. They are usually staffed with Housemasters/mistresses (HoMs), Assistant HoMs, Matrons, Visiting Tutors and Housekeepers, who are the first port of call for pupils who have any wellbeing concerns. This enables the school to provide far more effective pastoral care than if staff only ever engage with pupils in the classroom or during tutor time.
9. Is there a culture of care?
Most importantly, a school which is values-led, with an ethos that encourages kindness and respect, where positive mental health and wellbeing is accepted as an important aspect of school life, and where everyone is encouraged to take part in activities which will promote them, is most likely to be an environment where your child can flourish.
If a school employs all of the above initiatives, it is clearly one which values and supports your child’s mental health and wellbeing (as well as yours).
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Find out more about our Assistant Head Pupil Mental Wellbeing, Mrs Caroline Bond, here.