Try as you might, it’s hard not to pass the anxiety on to the pupils who are all bright enough to know what they experience in year 6 – an over emphasis on maths and English lessons and a cursory nod to the other subjects so that they can be seen to write across all subjects! They can’t be fooled by a ‘don’t worry about the tests, they measure us not you’ when they witness the increasing anxiety of their teachers as they come to the realisation that fronted adverbials and the present progressive tense have not sunk into the collective memories of Hexagon Class! I read an alarming article when researching

this piece. The Association of School and College

Leaders (ASCL) surveyed 606 head teachers from schools that had entered pupils for the new GCSE. They found reports of panic attacks, sleepless nights, depression, extreme fatigue, self- harming, and suicidal thoughts.

FEATURE FOCUS: MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING It is also refreshing to see that Ofsted are

body image, without the necessary skills to evaluate and process it and to see it for what it is. At the same time, people have access to you in ways they did not before. Many young people have their phones or tablets, or internet capable TVs in their rooms, networked play on Xbox and the like put children at risk of exposure to all sorts of dangers and often parental inattention means they are on these devices until the early hours of the morning. As a Head, I dealt with countless issues of online bullying that occurred outside of school hours, much of it extremely nasty with long lasting impact on the anxieties and mental health of the victims and noticeable impact on concentration levels in school. Added to that the ubiquitous nature of social

media pushing false ideals of what perfect looks like, what to wear, what to buy, who to like etc. our young people are literally bombarded with damaging information without the necessary digital literacy skills to discern the level of

Effect Panic attacks

Sleepless nights Depression

Extreme fatigue Self-harming

Suicidal thoughts Sample reporting problems

Effects encountered due to new GCSE format 2017-18 Number of head teachers reporting effect 460

457 394 344 340 216 546

Whilst the sample size is small in comparison to

the number of secondary schools in England, it is hard to stomach that 216 children are thinking suicidal thoughts due to exam pressures. Added to this, there is an awful lot to be taught in a school day without the requisite time to process the learning effectively which in turn leads to cognitive overload, and thus increased stress and anxieties. When we fill every hour of every day with the acquisition of knowledge, we seemingly forget that we are working with children and not machines. And school is just one stressful aspect of being

a young person in the UK today. When I was growing up, the influence of the media was limited to four TV channels and whatever I saw in Smash Hits magazine. In this day and age, children are bombarded with information about

recognising the validity of schools that eschew the focussed drive for academic success and topping league tables for a more human-led curriculum. The recent Ofsted report for Hope School in Liverpool is a light at the end of the tunnel for other settings who have previously suffered for focussing on developing the emotional health of their children sometimes at the cost of the end of key stage attainment scores. In fact, Ofsted seem to have understood the impact that the relentless pursuit for bettering floor targets and dodging coasting definitions has had, with a new push for more balanced curriculums that recognise and reflect the needs of the school’s cohort. Our school staff very much enjoyed designing a curriculum that met the needs of our children and unsurprisingly, our children very much enjoyed the learning opportunities presented to them with a noticeable impact on engagement and enjoyment levels in all our age groups. With a better understanding that cognitive

Percentage 86

86 74 64 64 40


credence that the information warrants. We spend too much time in schools teaching pupils ‘how to use a piece of software’ when the focus needs to be more on ‘how to use it safely’. It’s not all doom and gloom though. We are

now more cognisant of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) these days, with children previously labelled as ‘wilfully defiant’ now recognised as someone communicating an unmet need through their challenging behaviour. It is heart-warming to see just how many schools are embracing trauma informed practice in the drive to be effective in supporting our young people through their difficulties. Institutions such as The Wave Trust are doing great work bringing trauma-informed approaches to the collective consciousness of our education communities.

development can only happen when emotional needs are attended to, more and more schools are branching out (forgive the pun) into Forest School provision. It is generally understood that pupils benefit from getting up out of their seats and into the fresh air and more practical pursuits. There is also a rise in schools with menageries, allotments and carefully resourced playgrounds so that lunchtimes promote activity beyond football and encourage children to think and innovate. Residential trips are still a hot favourite despite decreasing budgets and a risk-averse culture in schools. The best examples of these seek to stretch the children, broaden their horizons and help them discover their potential. I often cite the week-long stays at The Outward Bound Trust centre in Loch Eil with our year 6 children as more transformative and therapeutic than anything we could offer in a school term. Certainly our children had a renewed sense of self having conquered fears and experienced activities well outside their range of reference and their comfort zones. So whilst we may see an increased prevalence

in mental health disorders amongst our young people, we are also seeing an increased prevalence of schools pushing back against the restrictions of our schooling system opting instead to treat our youngsters as humans first, pupils second, meeting their emotional needs and setting them up for successful futures.

Editor’s Choice 2020 25

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