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FEATURE: MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING


holiday sees an array of treats being put on, including a week of themed goodies prior to finishing for Christmas. INSET days and Twilight meetings have refreshments provided. In January we introduced the Fri-Yay mug, an initiative where a colleague fills a cup with small gifts and adds an anonymous note stating a reason for treating them that week; this even continued all through lockdown. Some fun was added through the creation of a Strictly Come Dancing sweepstake and Oscar predictions with prizes. Putting on staff events with light hearted competitions created a non-work related discussion point and helped build connection beyond the roles people have.


children’s wellbeing as an ongoing priority.


How did you focus on children’s wellbeing prior to lockdown? It was evident that much work was needed to teach pupils about what mental health was, including making the links between healthy eating and good sleep habits. As well as creating a warm and friendly atmosphere in the building to help children feel valued, we engaged with national events including Hello Yellow, the charity Young Mind’s funds and awareness raiser in October, wearing a yellow item with their uniform, having an assembly and creating displays on their classroom doors. In February last year we participated in our first children’s mental health week, where many of the children experienced yoga for the first time and considered the theme of ‘Find your brave’ through creative writing and art work.


How have you supported staff wellbeing? Wellbeing has been a key element of Beckfield as a workplace. A succession of supply teachers meant that it was crucial for me to provide the children with much needed consistency and the opportunity to build trusting relationships with adults to impact positively on learning. A recruitment drive in the summer term last year resulted in my appointing fourteen new members of staff who were willing to join an inadequate school and commit to the very challenging journey to wholescale improvement. Recognising the hard work of everyone collectively and valuing their specific contributions quickly became part of the school’s culture, lending itself naturally to two of the Co-op ways of being of Succeed together and Show you care. We participate in events including National Teaching Assistants Day and World Teacher Day, seizing the opportunity to thank staff with gifts and cards and use social media to acknowledge and celebrate publicly. The workload considerations of staff are fundamental to how I write school policies and make operational decisions, and thought is given to when pinch points arise in the term, recognising that for different staff those periods will differ. Wherever possible, time is provided – for example, INSET days commonly have a mixture of training input delivered by the SLT, and the opportunity to be in classrooms, completing tasks of the teacher’s choosing. Email guidance has been agreed, with staff encouraged to use the scheduled send option to plan when communicating electronically if working outside the agreed times. As well as the more expected provisions of free tea, coffee, milk and filtered water in the staffroom, every final day before a


November 2020


What steps did you take to support staff wellbeing during the lockdown? School closure actually seemed to galvanise the team further, with a conscious effort made by my senior team to help colleagues feel connected and supported with the staff dissipated - some shielding, some running key worker provision in school, some working from home and some unwell. We quickly became experts in video calls and maintained staff meetings and 1:1s where I checked in on everyone. We started ‘Well-being Wednesdays’ where our key worker provision was maintained yet colleagues were encouraged to spend the day concentrating on their own and their family’s wellbeing. Staff were also sent a variety of messages and items through the post including bookmarks and sweets, and a weekly through the keyhole quiz with photographs from colleague’s homes were provided to guess “Who lives in a house like this”? It could be seen that with the pandemic, typical job movements did not occur, but our conscious effort to create a strong team with a shared vision is sure to have contributed to retention of 100% of teachers and TAs in the academic year 2019 – 2020, which I was ecstatic about.


What informed your approaches to wellbeing for reopening? I created online surveys that were sent out to all parents and staff, with one of the questions asking them to rank the top three priorities for the children at return to school. The response was unequivocal; both groups of respondents deemed mental health to be the most important area to focus on. (Interestingly, second was social skills and third was physical health). Time was invested in the summer break for the SLT to consult with specialist sources of research. The Mental Health


Foundation’s guide to returning to school after lockdown provided useful insight into the challenges facing schools and pupils including navigating loss and bereavement, different home environments, inequalities, uncertainty, transition periods, friendship and bullying. We also consulted the Anna Freud publication ‘Managing the transition back to school: a guide for schools and colleges.’ Reopening was a daunting task for any school, and especially so for a setting already enduring an uphill climb to transform from its inadequate status. The global pandemic struck and interrupted the momentum we gained from the initial seven month period. The reading was compelling, and it was important not to become overwhelmed with the extent of the task ahead, recognising both limitations and strengths of human resources, finances, expertise, physical space and time.


What new wellbeing approaches did you adopt for children? The school guidance highlighted a number of key areas to add to the practice that had begun to form prior to lockdown. We decided on the title ‘time for me – to focus on my mental health’. In order to address concerns about children needing to share their worries and ask questions, an ‘I’d like to talk card’ was designed and issued to every child, so that a non-verbal cue could be shown by placing on their desk for an adult to respond to. In order to help the children settle back into learning following the unstructured time during morning break and lunchtime, and to benefit wellbeing, the school has introduced twice daily mindfulness sessions, using the Mentally Healthy Schools timetable. Instrumental music is played as the teacher guides the children through set activities, and then facilitates the children to reflect on the experience afterwards so they learn what mindfulness is and how it benefits mental health. A longer period is given to this after lunch, with additional elements added. Beckfield has joined with mindful music, and their songs are played to the children, and the school is also in discussion with the charity to be part of a project with them. For the children in years 3 – 6, each child has been bought a copy of a self-esteem workbook (“I’m a star” by Poppy O’Neil) that covers a range of topics including managing emotions, coping with worries and developing resilience. For children who need a more targeted approach, our learning mentor has set up anger management and social skills group, and is adopting the zones of regulation framework to help inform their work with children who are encountering additional difficulties, supported by emotional literacy benchmarking and Boxall Profiling. With the inclusion of mental health in the new PHSE framework, further developments are in motion to devise and deliver focused lessons to further increase the children’s understanding. There is, of course, much work to be done and


as much as Beckfield is proud of the achievements made so far many challenges remain, and new ones emerge as the lasting impact of the pandemic and school closure becomes known. The school seeks to keep mental health and wellbeing high on the agenda for both pupils and staff in order to embed it in the school’s culture and to reap the benefits of the school community feeling safe, supported and valued.


www.education-today.co.uk 31


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