Dear Parents and Carers,
Goodbye and good luck to Year 13
I’ll start by saying goodbye to Year 13 who had their leaving event today. They still have some exams to sit but their full-time attendance at school is now over. They have been a wonderful group of young people to work with and I know I speak for all the staff when I say we will miss them enormously. They have made us proud year in, year out and I know they will go on to make us proud in the future.
Student Mental Health and Wellbeing
There has been a lot in the media recently about the strains on mental health that people of all ages are experiencing in the aftermath of the pandemic, but young people especially. I thought it would be helpful to use this bulletin to give you an overview of things we have in place now or plan to put in place in the near future to support students’ wellbeing and mental health.
An unprecedented number of young people are suffering from the effects of poor mental health. The mental health charity Young Minds reported in January 2021 that, of 2,438 young people who responded to their survey, 67% believed that the pandemic would have a long-term impact on their mental health. During the pandemic, referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, known as CAMHS, dropped, probably because children were at home and away from the people who would help to make those referrals, such as schools. Since then, referrals have risen to record highs. Schools have no extra funding allocated to support mental health and are trying to put in place some urgent provision as a priority.
We have had for many years a very expensive structure in the pastoral team where we employ six full time inclusion offices to work with each year group from 7 to 11, with another dedicated to the sixth form. That is unusual in my experience – schools might have one or two, but not six. That means that the core pastoral team for each year group has much more capacity to support students over the course of the school day. Two of our inclusion officers are trained as Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs), meaning they can give an extra layer of support. You can read more about ELSA and see the sorts of things they do here - https://www.elsanetwork.org/resources/free-resources/
Mental Health First Aiders
We have invested a lot in Mental Health First Aid. All our Inclusion Officers are trained mental health first aiders, which means they have attended and passed a two-day course just as you would for a physical first aid certificate. That training is repeated every three years. All the Heads of Year are Mental Health First Aid Champions, a slightly lower level of training which reflects the fact that they spend less time one to one with students. The content of the mental health first aid course covers:
- An in-depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing
- Practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues
- Confidence to step in, reassure and support a person in distress
- Enhanced interpersonal skills such as non-judgemental listening
- Knowledge to help someone recover their health by guiding them to further support
Two years ago, we repurposed a classroom and the office next to it as a provision for our more vulnerable children. It’s called The Study. Originally it was staffed by one full-time higher-level teaching assistant, Mrs Jarvis. Mrs Jarvis has since qualified as a Trauma Informed Practitioner and as an ELSA, meaning that she can offer a range of interventions from one to one work to groups dealing with social skills or friendship issues. Once we had that new provision, we quickly found that demand was higher than we had anticipated so we expanded it by adding another room next door and appointing another full time HLTA, Mrs Anderson, to work with Mrs Jarvis. There are now five rooms - an intervention meeting room, two main rooms and two individual work rooms. We wanted to include a dog in the study and several staff volunteered their pets to come and sit with the children. We auditioned five dogs and loved them all, so there is now a different dog there each day of the week. The number of students accessing support through the study continues to grow.
We have had two counsellors working with us for many years now. They see students for all sorts of reasons and are regarded by the students they help as being extremely useful indeed. They are based in the well-being centre, the building which was previously the pavilion.
Mental Health in Schools Team
We were amongst the first schools to form a partnership with the MHST. We have five qualified mental health practitioners in our team running interventions lasting for between six and eight weeks for around thirty children at any given time. They are based in a newly converted section of the well-being centre, which now contains a number of discreet consultation rooms.
The School Nurse team are in school every Thursday lunchtime for drop in consultations, no appointment necessary. They are also based in the Wellbeing Centre.
We have included a lot of content relating to mental health and wellbeing in our PD lessons, teaching children what the physiological effects of trauma or anxiety are and how to deal with them through practical steps such as simple breathing exercises or grounding techniques. There is a helpful leaflet explaining what happens when we become dysregulated or “flip our lids” here: https://www.attachment-and-trauma-treatment-centre-for-healing.com/uploads/4/0/5/4/4054075/flipping_lid_infographic.pdf
Personal Development Enrichment
Our Personal Development Enrichment lessons, included in the curriculum for the first time this year, are designed to provide opportunities to relax in the company of friends old or new and just enjoy doing something for which there are no targets set or assessments taken. It is a chance to enjoy doing something for the sake of doing something and has proved very popular with both students and staff.
Social workers in schools
We have expressed an interest in a scheme which puts trainee social workers in schools on placement as part of their course. Those trainees are either completing an undergraduate degree or a master’s degree, and they spend three days a week for two terms in schools offering support to a small caseload of vulnerable children. I think this would be a massive benefit to those students with heightened anxiety who find school very difficult. A trainee social worker on placement would be able to undertake direct therapeutic work with students, getting to know them and supporting them. I understand that some schools go on to employ the trainees full time once they have completed the course. If our application is successful, we will have one trainee in place by October and, hopefully, a second by January.
NHS 111 Option 2
I’ll end by sharing with you information about a new service for Mental Health Support. NHS 111 Option 2 is a helpline for people of all ages in Norfolk and Suffolk who need urgent mental health support. The helpline is available all day, every day. Anyone experiencing something that makes you feel unsafe, distressed or worried about their mental health can phone the helpline on 111 and select option 2.
Proactive strategies useful for everyone in increasing mental health levels can be found here:
If you would like to discuss our mental health and well-being offer in more detail, please contact your child’s year team through the usual channels.
Have a good weekend and a good half term break,