How can school leaders respond to the fact that one-in-eight students experience mental health issues?

Bernard Canetti, principal of Brampton College, Hendon, offers his opinion on the government’s plan to dedicate an additional £31.6m to the training of more educational psychologists, and the need for a proactive, holistic approach to wellbeing in schools

With one-in-eight five-to-19-year-olds experiencing at least one mental health disorder, according to results published last year by the NHS, I, along with many of my fellow teaching professionals, welcome the government’s plan to dedicate an additional £31.6m to the training of more educational psychologists.

The pressure on young people today is huge and, over the past 10 years, I have witnessed an increasing number of students suffering from anxiety and other psychological issues. Adolescence is an inherently difficult time and recently the problems have been compounded by the constant access to the internet, social media and the pressure of exams. This is widely recognised as a significant problem affecting not only pupils and schools, but the support services too.

So, whilst I would applaud the government’s commitment to increase spending on training qualified educational psychologists, I would call for an even greater and more holistic approach to tackling student wellbeing, one which takes a pro-active and preventative approach to the psychological wellbeing of students rather than relying on interventions at crisis point.

I believe it’s critical that all schools receive support to implement school-wide initiatives which help to promote and support wellbeing. More than ever, it’s profoundly important that schools present an environment where students feel their teachers are concerned about them as individuals, take them seriously and believe in them.

An important authority on this subject, Sir Anthony Seldon, has long voiced his opinion on the need for government to take student wellbeing seriously. A leading headteacher for 20 years, he has called on government to introduce a wellbeing league table for schools on a par with its exam league table. At a recent conference he commented, “The evidence is clear that wellbeing interventions… allow students and young people to cope best with problems…schools that prioritise wellbeing – which includes challenging and stretching students – also build character and help them to perform better than those schools which are simply exam factories.”

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I couldn’t agree more!

So what measures can schools put in place to actively encourage a whole-school approach to wellbeing? It is a misconception that a commitment to student wellbeing comes at the expense of strong academic results – in fact, the two are intrinsically linked. At Brampton we are delighted to have achieved our 18th year at the top of London’s league tables – however, whilst academic achievement is crucial for our students, looking after their psychological wellbeing, and developing self-belief, confidence and resilience, is equally valued.

This ethos has driven our approach at Brampton for many years. As well as assigning a personal tutor to provide personal and academic support to each pupil, the college has a student counsellor, an educational psychologist and a child and adolescent psychotherapist, as well as running a series of wellbeing workshops.

Building a good relationship with parents is also key; their perspective and advice on how best to support children, or cope with challenging behaviour, has been incredibly well-received.

When students leave school feeling happy and confident, we know we have achieved real success.

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