Student wellbeing has rightly started to receive a much bigger focus within schools and in the wider community over the last few years. This has undoubtably been a positive move, but it is important that schools now move beyond just talking about it to actually putting together a positive action plan. Despite challenging budgets, there are a number of initiatives that schools can adopt to promote positive student wellbeing that won’t cost the earth. I am fortunate enough to work at a secondary school where student wellbeing is at the forefront of everything we do. The staff I work alongside care deeply for the students in their care and will go above and beyond to listen to their needs and support them. Below are ten ideas, which have worked well for our students.
1. Get your Senior Leadership Team on board – All of the ideas below risk falling short if you do not have the support of your SLT, pastoral leaders and SENCO. It is impossible to carry out such an important role as one person especially if you have additional responsibilities already within the school.
2. Set up a student wellbeing ambassador group. The key for us, in helping to remove the stigma attached to mental health, has been to establish a group of Year 12 and Year 13 Wellbeing Ambassadors. They have helped to organise events, designed posters to go up around the school and have spoken in assemblies and at public events, some of them talking openly about their struggle with mental health. One of our Year 10 girls, after hearing them speak said, ‘For the first time in ages, I feel that I’m going to be ok’.
3. Use your school website to create on-line information and guidance. Many of our pupils said that they want to know more about mental health issues, but didn’t feel comfortable talking to someone within school. There is a wealth of information on the internet but not all of it is good advice for a teenager seeking help. With this in mind, we created a Wellbeing section on our website with various articles that we wrote ourselves on issues which affect young people, including stress, eating disorders, bullying, bereavement and OCD. Our website also has links to a number of mental health websites which we have checked are suitable for teenagers.
4. Create pastoral folders. We created Wellbeing pastoral folders for each of the pastoral leads. This contains information on anxiety, self-harm, OCD, bereavement, anger, depression and stress. I wrote to various local charities to request leaflets. Staff now have a readily available bank of resources to hand out when meeting with pupils and parents.
5. Look for Funding opportunities – With limited funds available in school I would advise writing to local companies to ask for donations. I found that companies are generally more prepared to either give resources or donate money to a specific project. Last academic year we received donations of over £3,000. This year six members of staff have already raised over £3,000 in sponsorship from running a half marathon. Pupils love learning from external speakers and many mental health charities are happy to send someone in for free or a small donation.
6. Set up a Wellbeing Room – We used some of the funding to create a Wellbeing room for pupils to access at lunchtime. This is a quiet, relaxing space with beans bags, jig saw puzzles, lava lamps, a fish tank, colouring books, games plus a library of mental health fiction and non-fiction books. The room is also used during the school day for various support groups and one-to-one work.
7. Write an article in your school newsletter – I write an article for the weekly newsletter which goes out to parents. This can include information about upcoming events, information on a specific mental health condition, advice on maintaining good wellbeing or an update on the work of the Wellbeing Ambassadors.
8.Set up an in-school counselling service – The school have paid for two members of staff to train as counsellors. With limited availability from external services and long waiting lists, this has allowed many pupils to receive help before they reach crisis point.
9. Involve parents – Mental health difficulties can often stem from problems within the home environment. Parents can feel let down by the lack of available support from external services, so it is important that school listen to their concerns and help them to access the support needed for their families. We ran an evening event last June, which included over forty stands from external groups and charities, alongside eight different taster workshops including exam stress, self-harm and mindfulness.
10.Run pupil workshops – I run an anxiety workshop for pupils which is based on a cognitive behavioural therapy approach, which helps pupils to understand what anxiety is, why they get anxious and how to use techniques to manage their anxiety. I plan to run this workshop with parents later this month.
Ruth is the SENCO and Assistant Headteacher at the John Henry Newman School in Stevenage. She has been teaching at the school for over 18 years and has held the position of SENCO for 10 years. The staff and pupils at the school are fantastic and she loves going into work each day. She believes that the wellbeing of students at John Henry Newman comes first and that they should leave school as resilient young adults, with a sense of self-worth and knowing how to keep themselves safe.