Philip Hoyland, headmaster of Pinewood, a co-ed prep school, explains how a good school can manage the more difficult issues encountered by pupils in junior and senior schools.
The quality of pastoral care offered by schools has improved enormously in the last two decades, most notably in its ability to recognise those in need of extra help and the successful strategies implemented to deal with the issues.
It is encouraging to witness Anthony Seldon’s drive towards introducing MHFA (Mental Health First-Aid) in schools, as well as Theresa May’s focus on such provisions. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have also come out in support of bringing mental health issues to the forefront in their Heads Together campaign. Schools like Cheltenham College have introduced programmes to help children cope with busy lives and to prepare them for the wider world.
A strong tutor system, which supports the role of pastoral deputy heads and those of houseparents, should be the first point of call for any child who has a worry, but peer-to-peer support is also invaluable. Academic issues are supported by the SEND department, who can implement an integrated individual care plan. In more extreme cases, the department provide detailed SEN support outcome plans. In addition to one-to-one support, a SEND teacher should also sit with the child for a weekly session in the classroom. This ensures that help is not given in isolation but is integrated. Scribes and laptops can help too.
Away from the academic arena, many issues will arise. These can include stress, low self-esteem and anxiety, as well as worries regarding gender issues, body image and bullying – be it physical, verbal or cyber – in which case, the MHFA officer or counsellor should be involved to assess and find help from an external expert higher upstream.
Senior schools generally do a magnificent job in this area. Problems do occur at prep-school level but, thankfully, there is less exposure to social media pressure (Pinewood is a mobile-free school). When problems do occur, communication is vital in that golden triangle of home, school and child, as is a strong support group, made up of friends, nursing staff, tutors, matrons, counsellors or houseparents.
Many children may be ‘just managing.’ Early intervention is important but this is just sticking plaster. We need to treat the cause. Programmes to counter issues before they become intractable, to reduce the number of pupils reaching the referral stage are invaluable, but it is good to see schools embracing the difficulties confronting today’s students.
READ MORE: How Independent Schools Promote Mental Wellbeing/ Everything you Need to Know About Senior School Pastoral Care