The last few years have seen a seismic change in the official attitude to wellbeing and mindfulness. They have gone from being slightly “West Coast” and the provision for a few worthy if slightly bohemian few to centre stage of the educational agenda and a hot topic from the staffroom to the corridors of power in Westminster.
The focus originally, was quite rightly on the growing problems for children of all ages with mental health and how schools could cope with a situation many had not planned for or were funded for.
The usual suspects for moral decline were rolled out, the Internet, the collapse of the nuclear family, educational pressure from schools and parents. However, whatever the roots of the problem there could be no denying the reality of the situation with huge increases in self-harming, violence within schools and the most shocking of all teenage suicides. The response was at first muted and somewhat muddled until the weight of evidence became overwhelming that this was now not a class, gender or race issue but a national generational one. Homespun remedies like the introduction of Childline posters and lists of agencies who students could contact online were the first steps. Then a much more integrated response with CAMHS and excellent organisations such as Jigsaw saw pastoral care become more professional, responsive and effective. In a school I taught at for 20 years I saw student’s mental awareness programmes go from virtually nothing to an excellent week-long programme highlighted stigma and how to cope with stress and mange wellbeing to the introduction of a school councillor who was soon inundated with student referrals. The Ofsted Innovating Minds is a game changer as schools will have to offer and prove they are dealing with mental health issues for their students.
All of the above is to be lauded and seen as a giant step in the right direction but one of the concepts and fundamental reasons behind Every Voice Counts is a fear that in doing so much good we are in danger of driving out of the profession the very people who are in the front line of implementation- front line teachers and pastoral staff. Never before has Juvenal’s famous phrase “Quis custodiet Ipsos custodes?” been more apt. There is now a tidal wave of articles about children’s anxiety and depression, which is encouraging in breaking stigmas but I was really encouraged to see award winning CEO Asha Patel writing also about the anxiety teachers can suffer from even on the days of seemingly greatest celebration for schools, Exam week in August – http://www.innovatingmindscic.com/2018/08/22/gcse-exam-results-day-spare-a-thought-for-the-teachers/
There is a real issue which will become very apparent as the mental health process is rolled out as policy throughout the country. Teachers are already struggling with curriculum reform, more intensive GCSE and A Level courses, huge pressures at KS1 and 2 as well as the usual workload and conditions questions. Pastoral care is such an important part of what schools have always done and the intrinsic part staff have played in shaping young lives are amazing and for many one of the strongest drivers for joining the profession. However, how well are teachers going to be able to address the needs of mental health and wellbeing reforms within school if they themselves feel to be under pressure to keep up as it is without extra and very specialised demands being made upon them? Pastoral delivery is so much improved and outside speakers and help is much more readily available but in the limited amount of time in a crowded week, how well will this be managed and how much extra strain will this put-on teachers coping with already heavy demands?
Voices in high place are beginning to realise that there may be a lack of joint up thinking and it was great at to see this article from Henry Hepburn
In the TES addressing exactly the issues that need to be looked at BEFORE the provision for mental health is implemented without the necessary thought and training. And only yesterday this excellent article – https://www.tes.com/news/we-must-change-our-definition-teacher-wellbeing by Julian Stanley the CEO of the excellent Education Support Partnership
We hope that the ripples become waves and Government wakes up to this new timebomb for teachers which is not only ticking but for many has already exploded. On a micro level EVC can aid Leadership in schools by canvassing important mental health issues completely anonymously and gauging staff reaction and framing decisions on what they are legally required to do with what is physically possible. We will continue to support wellbeing in education by collating as much information from across the media, unions and educational outlets (official and unofficial) and post them on our Social Media platforms and on the blog section of the website.
The implementation of mental health reform is imperative to the future of the nation but the implementing staff must be also be trained, fit and ready if it is to succeed and at the moment we are a long way from that promised land.