Two years ago we included positive mental health and wellbeing in our strategic plan. Since then we have been reaping the rewards, with a flourishing Trust and high-performing schools throughout.
Our plan recognises the external pressures faced by everyone; supports staff and pupil mental health; raises awareness of mental health issues; and overcomes stigma within the Trust’s communities.
It means we provide teachers and support staff with training to understand, identify and respond to the emotional needs of pupils. This includes laying the groundwork for managing anxiety in the classroom, a practice which came into its own when integrating pupils back to school after the Covid lockdown. Our staff were equipped to manage the process of coming back to school, which helped children and their families to feel comfortable, and we have had only a handful of pupils requiring the highest level of support across all the schools in our Trust.
The way we engage with pupils varies depending on their age, needs and preferences. In primary school, engagement with mental health support services depends a lot on the parent or carer, while in secondary school engagement depends more on the young person feeling positive about the intervention. To this end, we focus a lot of our attention on making sure interventions are relevant and accessible to different age groups.
Some of our pupils don’t have the support they need to manage their mental health at home, so we have devised a Skill Zone programme for pupils of all ages. In it they explore choices and consequences, emotional intelligence, managing authority, equality, bullying and making a positive contribution. It gives children the language to express themselves and provides a safe space for pupils to talk about things they would not get a chance to at other times of the school day.
Supporting staff on an individual level to look after their own mental health is also key to achieving a healthy learning environment and healthy relationships throughout our school communities. Paradigm Trust has four psychotherapists who provide counselling and therapies for any member of staff that require it. We are aware that individual mental health can be very private, so we ensure they are able to access the support outside of regular HR and management processes.
There is no doubt the importance of mental health has been pushed into the spotlight by the coronavirus pandemic. However, even outside the current circumstances, as a Trust we recognise the expectations we have for our pupils, teachers, support staff, parents and carers, need to be channelled into a process that is healthy and balanced for us all to achieve sustained success.