Strategy for student wellbeing
Three steps to wellbeing in school
Trinity All-Through School in London has been planning and implementing a three-step strategy to address the needs of student wellbeing. As Rob Thomas, the school’s Executive Head Teacher, argues, this work is a timely response to the mental health needs of young people.
Recently, I came across an article in The Guardian where the headline really caught my attention ‘Rise in calls to Childline for mental health issues prompts call for action’. (Guardian 6.2.17) In the article, Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at the Children’s Society said “Failing to address mental health problems early on can severely damage the lives of young people. As a first step all children should be able to access mental health and wellbeing support such as counselling in schools so they get support early to prevent a problem becoming a crisis.”
This struck a chord. The statistics for student mental health problems are breath-taking and alarming. In every classroom of 30, amongst 15-year-old pupils:
- 3 could have a mental disorder
- 3 say they are not happy
- 10 report feeling low each week
- 10 are likely to have witnessed their parents separate
- 1 could have experienced the death of a parent
- 7 are likely to have been bullied
- 6 may be self-harming
- 50 percent of adult mental health problems start by the age of 14
Tackling the Problem Systematically – a ‘whole organisation’ strategy
So, what can be done to avert this pending mental health crisis in our schools?
Some schools, but not all, provide onsite support through, for example, pastoral support systems, inclusion officers, school and college nurses and other school based health services in providing referrals to more specialist support for mental health and wellbeing available in the wider community. Evidence shows that interventions that take this multi-level, comprehensive ‘whole organisation’ strategy are more likely to have positive outcomes for their student population.
Devising and implementing a ‘whole organisation’ strategy creates a virtuous circle, reinforcing attainment and achievement that in turn improves student wellbeing, enabling students to thrive and achieve their full potential.
A Three-step Process
- The first step in a ‘whole organisation’ strategy is to measure the student’s mental or emotional wellbeing.
- The second step, is to identify the specific level of support each pupil needs. Low emotional wellbeing or unhappy students usually need professional counselling before they can be encouraged to work harder, whereas moderately happy students can be given more motivational counselling and happy students can be pushed to do better.
- And the final third step is to evaluate the pupil’s progress. These activities need to be repeated throughout the student’s secondary education and possibly beyond in higher education.
A Tool for measuring student emotional wellbeing
Our ‘whole organisation’ approach was to use a very effective cloud-based analytical tool called Student Motivation Questionnaire or SMQ.
- The SMQ provided insight in to the emotional health of students in our strategy.
- The SMQ enabled the team to examine the most urgent issues affecting the student’s motivation for learning and identify the level of support they need.
- We repeated the questionnaire at an appropriate time interval to evaluate the student’s progress (or lack of).
Obvious students are known but the SMQ uniquely highlights those who may slide under the radar. In challenging and pressured times, the SMQ is an enormous help in ensuring that resources are targeted where they will have the most impact, giving the students at risk the best possible life chances.
Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive at the charity YoungMinds, makes a fundamental point, “As a society we need to do far more to prevent mental health problems from developing in the first place. To start with, we urgently need to rebalance our education system, so that schools are encouraged to prioritise wellbeing and not just exam results.” Good outcomes for everyone.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, goes the wise Chinese proverb.
Time to take the first step.
Executive Head Teacher,
Trinity All Through School,