The importance of mental health at Hatherop

Lockdown and the closure of schools certainly presented parents and teachers alike with unique challenges.  

While Hatherop has reopened this September with gusto, we are all having to adjust to a new normal and new ways of doing things.  Universally, though in the conversations that I have had since reopening with colleagues and parents, we as adults all are thankful that we never had to experience when we were young what our children have had to endure since March.  But equally too, compared to those of us who are long in the tooth and take time to change habits that have developed over a career, children seem to have been able to adapt with ease in this most demanding of situations and rise to the challenges that they faced with a quiet and brave determination.

However, under the surface, things may not be quite as they first appear.  Us old timers have developed coping strategies through our life experiences that have built our resilience and adaptability, creating a depth of experience which we can tap into and utilise when times are tough.  Children simply don’t have this learned knowledge to rely on as they cope with all the challenges that they face and over time, for some, the cracks have appeared.  It is hard for us to understand the long-term impact that lockdown will have on the younger generation, but what is evident now and of paramount importance as schools reopen is the emphasis we must place on protecting their mental health as they cope with their new normal.

Developing mental health awareness at Hatherop

At Hatherop our pastoral focus this term has been on the mental health of our pupils.  All teaching staff are undergoing ‘Young People’s Mental Health Signpost Training’, as part of their continued professional development.  Form time has been put aside to discuss how children can be optimistic, using the excellent ‘Action for Happiness’ daily calendars.  Children have also been challenged to explore strategies for dealing with things which are in their control, using the ‘Big Life Journal’ resource. 

New initiatives within the school

We have recently launched a new responsibility & leadership programme in Prep 7 & 8, which is designed to encourage our oldest children to be role models for our younger pupils. The introduction of Patrols, led by our Prep 8s, is an in-house ‘buddy’ initiative, designed to allow children to meet new faces in and around the school.  Patrol time is also when the older children can peer mentor and share their wisdom to younger children in their group.

As a school we were very proud of our achievement in winning the prestigious Gold Award from the Anti-Bullying Alliance for our work in this area. We have reinforced this with new meetings for our Form Captains who are our designated Anti-Bullying Champions. 

Our new initiative for girls, called ‘Girls on Board’, was successfully launched in September. This project aims to support and empower girls in the difficulties they can sometimes find in relationships.  A worry shared is a worry halved and as we know it is difficult sometimes for children to raise concerns directly with staff.

We are also launching our new ‘Worry Box’ in school this month. This will help children raise issues or problems in a discreet and manageable way so that staff can be aware of or support those that may need a guiding hand.

We have introduced new monitoring strategies within school. This enables us to quickly signpost early help opportunities for those who may be struggling. In addition, it works to develop our PSHEE curriculums to focus on staff specialism in teaching the importance of mental health, wellbeing and personal safety to children.  We also continue to have the superb support of the Gloucestershire Constabulary Schools Beat program which sees a police constable regularly attending PSHEE sessions with our older children to discuss healthy relationships in the real world as well as online safety in the virtual.

Our aim as a school this year is to obtain the prestigious ‘Gloucestershire Mental Health Champions Award’, so we can showcase the work we are doing to support the young people in our care at Hatherop.  Supporting mental health in our pupils is of crucial importance and underpins all the work we do as a school, in the classrooms and outside of it.  We want to equip our children with the skills and resilience they will need to cope with the demanding and ever-changing world they will encounter in their adult life, whilst scaffolding support for them when it is needed in a targeted way. This all contributes to providing a platform for success within their school experience….because the one thing we have all learned this year is just how precious that experience is.

Mr James Oakden, Deputy Head