In the latest survey funded by the Department of Health and Social Care and commissioned by NHS Digital carried out in 2017 it was found that one in eight 5 to 19-year olds had a mental disorder. Evidence shows that across the UK, mental health issues in children are increasing while child wellbeing is deteriorating as children today are having to navigate a complex and ever-changing world, facing challenges and pressures in numerous aspects of their life. In the latest survey funded by the Department of Health and Social Care and commissioned by NHS Digital carried out in 2017 it was found that one in eight 5 to 19-year olds had a mental disorder.
Currently, just one in four children with a diagnosable mental health problem gets access to the treatment and care that they need, and as the need for mental health services is increasing so are waiting times for initial
In 2017 only 30 percent of children were assessed within four weeks of referral, with 4,309 children waiting more than 18 weeks, and 992 waiting for over a year. With these frightening statistics in mind, alongside the fact that children spend over 7,800 hours at school during their school life, and with evidence strongly suggesting that emotional wellbeing is a clear indicator of academic achievement, success and satisfaction in later life, our team at Redgate Primary have embarked upon a journey to providing an emotionally secure environment for promoting good emotional wellbeing and identifying early behaviour changes and signs of mental distress for both our children and families, as well as for the staff themselves. We passionately believe that the social and emotional skills, knowledge and behaviours that the children learn and experience within our school support them to buildresilience and set the pattern for how they will manage their mental health throughout their lives.
In 2018 the DfE made a recommendation that every school should have a designated senior lead for mental health, however on reflection our journey in supporting staff and children’s mental health and wellbeing began well before this recommendation when one of our team, who is now our designated lead for mental health shared her interest in mindfulness and how it had supported her own mental health. As a school who had been graded RI for a number of years and another impending Ofsted inspection we initially focused on mindfulness to support our staff wellbeing. This included a series of mindfulness training sessions for the teaching staff as well as an intensive mental health and wellbeing training course for our mental health lead. We soon began to see how improving our staff’s mental health was having a positive impact upon the children’s wellbeing.
As with most schools, we have extremely limited funds to access services and training, and so this alongside over stretched services we have found it challenging to access support from outside agencies such as the Local Authority, CAMHS and the NHS. As a school, we have had to be creative and resourceful in sourcing and implementing training and strategies which we could use to support mental health and wellbeing within school. We are lucky to have an extremely committed team who value the importance of wellbeing and so spend time researching and learning about new strategies.
Our team have worked together to introduce a number of wellbeing strategies throughout the school including our whole school “Wellbeing Wednesdays” where the whole school gather together in the hall on Wednesday afternoonsto take part in various activities such as yoga, meditation, peer massage and whole-body scanning. These strategies are also used in smaller groups within classroom time alongside other methods of relaxation such as bubble meditation, mindfulness writing and meditation journeys. In the run up to SATS our year 6 pupils are also able to access Yoga on a daily basis.
A whole school approach to wellbeing
We also relish in whole school wellbeing projects with provocations such as books and whole school trips to the zoo. As a whole school, we have recently all enjoyed exploring the book ‘Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids’ by Carol McCloud. This book project gave the children the opportunity to support and develop their own ideas about how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love. Bucket filling and dipping are effective metaphors for understanding the effects of our actions and words on the wellbeing of others and ourselves. This was a wonderful project which we shared with parents through a whole school art display.
We extended our work with the children around kindness by working with Shonette Bason to distribute ‘Happiness boxes’ alongside DHL. The children helped staff from DHL to fill up these boxes with daily household goods and distribute them to our community.
The children also participate in the mile a day – this is simply a mile walk first thing in the morning around the playground but it provides the children and staff the valuable opportunity to talk to each other in a very relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere and natural environment.
Supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing and developing resilience very much begins within our Early Years classrooms with children as young as 2, as we aim to promote and encourage resilience and wellbeing through our everyday provision and the interactions we have with the children. Our ethos and practice is very much child centred as we feel that the children’s wellbeing and learning is best nurtured and promoted within an environment where the children are very much leaders of their own learning.
To ensure that the staff are mindful and aware of our children’s levels of wellbeing we continually use the Leuven Scale of wellbeing where we observe children and assess their levels of wellbeing on a scale of 1-5. The practitioner then uses that assessment to decide what level of support the children may need. This is a very successful strategy within our early years department and we plan to continue to develop this practice through the rest of the school.
Following the children’s interests to develop and support their mental health and wellbeing is firmly embedded within our early years classrooms, and is now also currently being developed within the rest of the school through the introduction of the ‘Genius Hour.’
Genius hour is a concept that originates from Google’s practice of allowing employees to devote 20 per cent of their working time to pursuing their own projects. Employees were shown to be more productive and enthused, which results in higher levels of wellbeing. This strategy allows our children to take risks and think for themselves, gives them freedom to develop their own learning to show you what they’re interested in and to celebrate their learning, and so therefore develops resilience, independence and confidence. Although the genius hour is a new development within school it is already having a positive impact on our children’s mental health and wellbeing as we have already witnessed children who suffer with low self-esteem becoming so much more secure and confident within the classroom and beyond.
Supporting our staff’s wellbeing
From our experience, we are very much aware that the wellbeing of staff impacts hugely on our children’s mental health and wellbeing, and so supporting staff is also a huge priority within school.
Staff wellbeing is supported through a number of ways within school such as wellbeing surveys, staff appreciation treats such as baskets of goodies left in the staff room, prosecco and gin cocktails after school on a Friday, Christmas shopping days and thank you emails from senior leaders and governors. Our senior leadership team are also continually developing strategies to support our team’s work/life balance.
Although we have come a very long way regarding our practice in supporting mental health and wellbeing, even gaining the Ofsted judgement of outstanding within the area of Personal development, behaviour and welfare, we are still very much on a journey to ensuring that our school provides all of our staff, children and their families with an environment that nurtures and supports their mental health and wellbeing.
About the author
Louise Dean is the EYS lead at Redgate Community Primary School in Liverpool.