Last year, in a survey by The Key, 64% of the school leaders we spoke to said they were concerned about depression in their pupils. This worry was echoed by the educational professionals and governors I met at the London Festival of Education at the end of February. As a researcher specialising in pupil wellbeing for our governor service, I was keen to find out how we can tackle this.
Catherine Roche, chief executive of Place2Be, a charity which provides school-based mental health support, and Sue Roffey, founder of Wellbeing Australia, emphasised how, as a society, we are too focused on getting high test scores and not focused enough on pupils’ social, emotional and mental health. It's not something we often hear, but what use is a top grade if you’re unable to cope in other areas of your life?
Shaun Dellenty, deputy headteacher at Alfred Salter Primary School, highlighted this perfectly during his talk on why schools must tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Schools have both statutory and moral obligations to prevent bullying of all kinds, yet according to Stonewall, homophobic bullying is experienced by 65% of pupils who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, queer and intersex (LGBTQI).
Sue, Catherine and Shaun were all clear – we have a responsibility to improve the wellbeing of all children, not just those who exhibit challenging behaviour or have difficult home lives.
So how can we do this?
- School leaders and governors must promote wellbeing in the school’s ethos – it starts from the top. Check your policies, your equality summaries, the language you use – do all pupils feel included in the school community? Do you have effective pupil voice strategies?
- Early intervention is key. Start from nursery, and recognise that anxiety and depression can affect children across the board regardless of background or academic achievement
- Recognise varied families and backgrounds and tackle all discrimination immediately. Think about the language you are using – could it reinforce feelings of being different in any pupil?
- Promote healthy lifestyles
- Seek help from mental health professionals. All state-funded schools have access to an educational psychologist: invite this person in to lead twilight or INSET sessions on how to support pupil wellbeing
- Make pupil wellbeing outcomes as important in your school as academic outcomes
- Think about how pupils can report bullying. Do you advertise anonymous helplines such as Stonewall or Childline for pupils to access?