Under Pressure

Dave MacPartlan

A CAMHS services in crisis ……. a reduction in family services …… oversubscribed PRUs……a reduction in school budgets ….. and limited SEND provision!

As if that wasn’t stressful enough,  a more demanding academic curriculum and high stakes accountability measures (will it change under the new framework I wonder?) has created a perfect storm of concerning media headlines:   higher exclusion rates; criticism of isolation rooms; parents ‘coerced’ to home educate and the questionable practice of  ‘off rolling’ students to improve results.

Is there any surprise that there is more challenging behaviours in our secondary schools? Staff and students in school are under pressure.

How can schools meet the challenge of such a potentially damaging environment?

As a pastoral leader of an 11-18 comprehensive with 1400 students, I feel fortunate in having a large pastoral team whose focus is keeping children in school and learning.

What is the key to success other than dedicated staff and lots of hard work?

In the past as a pastoral team we had a fairly traditional focus  on behaviour, attendance and  what then was new, achievement (which the school acknowledged by having  ‘Directors of Learning’ instead of ‘Heads of Year’) . We have always been a ‘good’ school and had pretty good behaviour, attendance was generally in line with the national data, and we had relatively low exclusion rates.

Things started changing for me when I realised that many of the difficulties students were facing were to do with pupil wellbeing and mental health. It wasn’t just that I realised the ‘baggage’ they were carrying was often too weighty, it was all too familiar. In many instances, they were the children of pupils I had previously taught and I could see now that many years ago they too had been facing mental health issues that were undiagnosed and untreated.

With mental health spoken about more openly, I know I now have an opportunity to make talking about mental health part of a school conversation. And I wanted from the very outset, that this conversation would include staff mental health and well-being as well as pupils. If we are a school, we are a community and caring for each other needed to be acted out every day and for every individual.

Eighteen months ago I decided that we had to do more. We needed to start supporting staff and student wellbeing and take steps towards helping families to support their child’s mental health. To do this a transformation of school culture essential. It needed to be more than a slogan or a policy and it would need honesty, trust and transparency to be lived.

Rather than turn away, pretending that everything was good enough, I began our journey to change our way of caring about ourselves. Under pressure, we had to create a mentally healthy school…….

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