5 things schools can do to help children’s mental health

Mental Health Foundation Stress Banner

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the Mental Health Foundation is focusing on stress. According to the Mental health Foundation “two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.”

Tes’ mental health columnist, Natasha Devon, argues that schools can help Mental Health Awareness Week by sending an unequivocal message that mental health matters, not just during Mental health Awareness Week, but all year round.

The Guardian recently reported that “The number of referrals by schools in England seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by more than a third in the last three years, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC” (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).

Research indicates there is a growing crisis within children’s mental health and that leaves many teachers having to deal with an increasing number of pupils suffering from stress, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as depression, self-harm and eating disorders.

Many teachers are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges they face as a result of the rise in mental health problems in children. But there are things schools can do to help. Here are five ways schools can help support children’s wellbeing at school.

1 – Start talking about mental health

There is still a stigma about mental health in mainstream society so it’s really important that schools open up a dialogue about it. At the very least more open discussions will increase understanding and reduce stigma around some of the issues children face.

2 – Address bullying in school

Students need to feel safe at school. Educating children about the effects of bullying and having a positive anti-bullying policy in school will help children to develop respect for each other.

3 – Support staff well-being

Staff can only improve the support they give to pupils when they are feeling supported and healthy themselves. Wellness at work will have a positive impact on the school environment and will definitely filter down to pupils.

4 – Offer training in mental health

Last year the Guardian reported that more than half of primary school teachers say they do not feel adequately trained in supporting children with mental health problems. Early intervention is crucial for children’s wellbeing and for that to happen teachers need adequate training to identify any issues. With many schools having to cut their pastoral and mental health support services because of budget pressures, it is up to headteachers to demand mental health training for all new teachers.

5 – Run after school social activities and mentoring

Extracurricular activities have been shown to have a positive effect on children’s wellbeing. Equally, peer mentoring and staff mentoring for vulnerable students provides an extra layer of support for those struggling with emotions and the challenges at school.

Controversial test for four-year-olds unveiled

Group Of Pre School Children Answering Question In Classroom

The government has unveiled plans to roll out the testing of all four-year-olds in their first few weeks at school, says a report in The Guardian. Ministers say the new tests will enable schools to measure progress in primary education and thus give a better measure of a school’s effectiveness. Critics argue that this measure will lead to some children being labelled as low ability.

More than 700 academics, early years experts and teachers have signed an open letter opposing the new national tests for four-year-olds that are due to begin in September 2020. They say the tests are both pointless and unreliable.

Despite opposition from teachers about the scheme, the government are pressing ahead and have announced that NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) have won the contract to begin testing in 2020. The rationale behind the testing is to make the accountability of primary schools fairer. It puts the spotlight on progress, rather than the ability children already possess.

The government attempted to introduce baseline assessments for reception classes in 2015. The DfE insisted on using several private providers, but research showed the different assessments were incomparable, so the scheme was scrapped.

Now the reshaped testing scheme is back on the agenda. However, it’s not without considerable opposition from teachers and education experts. Even assessment experts who ran the previous baseline scheme are speaking out against the proposals.

In a report on baseline testing published by TES, academics and education experts opposed to the scheme say “The tests risk children’s wellbeing and confidence by interrupting the crucial early period when they are forming relationships and settling into school.

“And many schools will teach to the test so that early years education will become more narrow and formal. This is not good for children.”

The baseline tests involve a 20-minute one-to-one assessment. The scheme will cost up to £10 million to develop. The largest teaching union is urging teachers to boycott pilot schemes to test children in the first weeks of starting school.

The More than a Score coalition, an alliance of parents, teachers and educational experts, which covers 16 teaching and early years’ organisations, argues that the proposed baseline tests will not produce valid results, and that there is a danger schools will play the game and lower baseline scores to make it easier to show progress later on. The group is also concerned that children will be streamed into sets too early on.

Speaking to The Guardian, Madeleine Holt of More Than a Score said: “There is no research evidence that four-year-olds can be reliably tested. The government has certainly not produced any.

“The score that the baseline test produces will not be a true picture of what children can do – yet it will be used to judge schools seven years later to assess whether they have enabled children to make enough progress.”

A 7-step plan for teachers gearing up for KS2 SATs

Stressed Schoolboy Studying In Classroom With Teacher

With the Easter break over, year 6 primary school teachers up and down the country are gearing up for the KS2 SATs tests fast approaching in May. With just a few weeks to go, revision should be in its final stages and a plan for the primary national tests already in place. It’s all about the preparation if you want to get through SATs week without a hitch. To ensure you and your class are prepared for this year’s SATs, read our 7-step pre-SATs plan.

1 – It’s not too late to recap topics, but keep it simple

There are still a few weeks to go before your children finally sit their SATs tests, so there is still time to recap essential topics. Tes (the former Times Education Supplement) has a number of useful KS2 resources if you need some fresh material.

At this stage, it’s important to keep lesson plans simple and not overwhelm your pupils. Last-minute panic revision will send the wrong message. Revise in short bursts. Target individual support and aim to boost confidence in perceived weaknesses.

2 – Model a positive mental attitude

Keep your SATs preparation simple and maintain a positive outlook. You want to create an air of calm in the lead up to SATs week. How you behave will rub off on your pupils, so being prepared, organised, positive and calm will create the best environment possible.

3 – Don’t panic

It may seem obvious, but don’t panic. There’s no point trying to cram in revision of everything you’ve covered in the year at this late stage.

4 – Dispell scaremongering about SATs

Last year The Guardian reported that more primary school children are suffering stress from SATs than ever before. Fear of failure could be affecting some of your pupils. Keep a close eye on your students to support and encourage them through a potentially difficult time.

Try to keep fun and creativity at the heart of the learning process. Dispell any myths about SATs and reassure children that SATs only test a part of them. Praise your pupils’ ability in subjects not tested in SATs too. Be explicit in positive messages.

5 – Keep parents informed

It’s likely you’ve already held a meeting for parents to explain what is involved in SATs week. Send a reminder letter or email to parents to remind them about what SATs week entails. Simple parenting tips about how to help children relax in the run-up to SATs week can be helpful.

Remind parents about the importance of exercise, such as trips to the park, getting children to bed on time, and to offer nutritious food and snacks, before and during SATs week.

6 – Don’t forget your own well-being

SATs week can be stressful for all involved if you let it. It’s extremely important you look after your own well-being, as well as encouraging parents and children to do the same.

7 – Be organised with the essentials for SATs test days

It’s not just the learning prep that needs to happen for SATs tests to run smoothly. Be clear to your class and helpers who is going where for the actual tests. Some children may have additional time allocated or have a reader assigned to help. Ensure all involved know where they need to be and how it will work.

Make sure you have your school’s DfE number to hand for test papers, and ensure you have all the equipment you need, such as pencils, rulers, protractors etc. Always have spares to hand.

9 easy steps to develop growth mindset

Boy with binoculars on a scale of books

All teachers will have heard about growth mindset. Most teachers will have had training in it. But how many teachers are actually getting it right in the classroom? Read our latest blog to recap the basic concepts of growth mindset and follow our 9 easy steps to develop growth mindset attitudes in your primary classroom.

What is growth mindset?

A growth mindset refers to an individual who believes they can develop intelligence. The term was coined by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, who noticed during research that children who believed intelligence is learnt are better at solving problems than those children who think intelligence is innate and fixed. In growth mindset pupils there is an understanding that through effort, good teaching and persistence, talents and abilities can be developed.

Want to do more to develop a culture of growth mindset in your classroom? Follow our 9 easy steps for getting growth mindset right.

9 steps for developing growth mindset

1 – Train teachers and pupils – children need to understand the growth mindset concept as much as teachers do.

2 – Integrate growth mindset into the curriculum – it’s a mistake to teach growth mindset in isolation as part of PSHE or in an assembly. It’s important the growth mindset philosophy is incorporated into the whole curriculum.

3 – Praise a student’s thinking – subtle cues will mould a child’s perception of intelligence. Saying ‘you are so good at maths’ reinforces a fixed mindset. Instead, offer praise about the learning process to encourage a growth mindset – ‘you worked really hard to find the answer.’ Correlate success with effort, not intelligence.

4 – Embrace the word yet – failure is an inevitable part of the learning process. Failure provides pupils with a chance to reflect. Research suggests that utilising the word ‘yet’ can shift the thinking of students from ‘I can’t do this’ to seeing problems as growth opportunities.

5 – Teach pupils to embrace failure and celebrate it – part of developing a growth mindset is in celebrating failure rather than fearing it. Letting pupils struggle a bit so they can solve problems on their own is an important step. Teach pupils to embrace mistakes and see them as part of the learning process.

6 – Encourage students to take risks and love challenges – create a culture that fosters risk taking. The more students take risks and love challenges, the more they stretch themselves and make mistakes, which leads to growth and learning.

7 – Pupils must experience success in small incremental tasks – when pupils are struggling to succeed, tasks should be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks to help the student experience success.

8 – Work with parents – invite parents into school to learn about growth mindset. Fixed mindset language may be used at home, such as ‘oh don’t worry I was rubbish at maths.’ Educate parents about this.

9 – Plan lessons to support growth mindset – consider these three key growth mindset questions in your lesson planning:

  • Does the work provide the opportunity to learn something new?
  • How can I give meaningful feedback?
  • What strategies can I use for struggling pupils?

How to survive in teaching without imploding, exploding or walking away

How to survive in teaching book cover image

An insightful book written by Dr Emma Kell

There’s hardly a day goes by without some news in the education sector of teachers reaching their limit. Stories of mental breakdowns and of teachers leaving the profession in droves doesn’t fill those new to the profession with much confidence about their chances in the future. But, according to a new book written by experienced teacher and researcher, Dr Emma Kell, it is entirely possible to survive and do well, despite the fact that the teaching profession is facing a genuine crisis.

Kell believes there are ways to survive the increasing pressures in the teaching profession. Her book, How to survive in teaching, without imploding, exploding or walking away, offers realistic and practical answers to survival as a teacher and gives a positive spin on the challenges and rewards of teaching.

Kell has two decades’ experience in the classroom and describes her book as a ‘celebration and a call to action.’ She points out that all too often teachers become bogged down with toxic politics and conflict, and this along with other workplace stress leads many teachers to make the decision to walk away.

A book review in Schools Week of Kell’s work reminds us that most teachers strive to be creative, express their individuality and show a passion for the subjects they teach. Most teachers, Kell argues, want to be brilliant teachers and make a difference to those that they teach. Kell calls upon teachers to say no to excessive workloads. One piece of advice Kell stresses if you want to survive in teaching without imploding, exploding or walking away is to leave on time.

Kell explores some interesting strategies and looks at some successful models where teachers can feel supported, yet challenged, feel accountable and enjoy a sense of being valued. Chapter 3 of this interesting and frank review of what’s really happening in our education system summarises just what to expect if you are joining the teaching profession today. Chapter 4 offers responses to the challenges this profession faces. She proposes teachers should respond to curriculum changes and not take them lying down. Her message? To fight back.

This is a book every teacher, and anyone considering entering this profession, should read. It spells out the facts on the challenges teachers face, but also offers hard-hitting advice on how to survive the perils of modern day teaching as well.

7 steps to support a child with anger issues in the classroom

Almost every child gets angry at some point in the classroom. Anger is a normal emotion. But, a child with anger issues is likely causing turmoil and disruption to your class. So, how do you support a child that has persistent angry outbursts? Follow our 7 steps to make a difference.

1 – Stay calm

A child with anger issues needs support. It is vital that you stay calm. Raising your voice will only escalate the incident. A volatile pupil may trigger feelings of frustration in you. It’s imperative that you keep those feelings under wraps and remain calm to avoid the situation spiralling out of control.

2 – Intervene early

Keep a close eye on the child. Simply sending the child on an errand when you can predict a problematic situation could help avoid another outburst. Intervene early and you have the most chance of getting the child to forget what he or she was angry about.

3 – Have the child engage in activities that help him or her to vent frustrations

Drawing, working with clay, and writing in a journal are all activities that may prove helpful for a child with anger problems. Using a stress ball or getting the TA to take the child for a quick walk may be enough to avert pent up frustration. Acknowledge effort when the child is successful in using an activity to release tension and avert an outburst.

4 – Reach out

According to Jay Birch, a primary school teacher and writer for TES, the most effective and simplest way of finding out what might be causing the problem is to ask the child. “what makes you feel angry?”

You need to try and build a relationship with the pupil. Make a special effort to connect with the child. Ask the child about interests and hobbies and listen actively. It’s likely the child doesn’t trust teachers. If you can gain a level of trust, the child may talk to you about what is upsetting them.

5 – Look for patterns

If the child is unresponsive to your enquiries, spend time observing them to see if you can identify triggers. Also, check in with previous teachers to see what they observed. They have more knowledge about the child’s situation. Understanding patterns will enable you to step in and diffuse situations before they reach breaking point.

6 – Ask the pupil to write about what is happening

After an angry episode, and once the child has calmed down, ask them to write down what happened. Get him, or her, to express what triggered the anger, how he or she responded, how others reacted and how they could deal with the same situation differently in the future.

7 – Provide a safe cooling off area

Removing a child from a situation that is triggering anger is the safest and best thing to do. It’s important that the child knows going to a cooling off area is not a punishment – it is a supportive tool to help the child calm down. This could be the school office, a nurture assistant’s office, to another class or to the water fountain or bathroom. Be careful that the child doesn’t use the privilege as an excuse to escalate behaviour.

How to start a teacher wellbeing plan

Frustrated Teachers

Teacher wellbeing has been in the spotlight for a while now. Research carried out last year by the Education Support Partnership revealed a bleak picture in view of the current pressures in the education profession, and the impact those pressures are having on the health and wellbeing of teachers. Work-load and work-life balance were cited as the main causes for psychological, physical or behavioural problems associated with work.

The survey of 1, 250 education professionals found the implementation of health and wellbeing policies in the education sector is inconsistent. Education professionals expressed a desire for more support on mental health and wellbeing issues in the workplace.

Headteacher, Daniella Lang, at Brimsdown primary school in Enfield, north London, took the decision to set up a staff wellbeing team, following a troubling time at the school. Problems within the school resulted in two Ofsted inspections, led to redundancies, and left morale amongst teaching staff low. The results of the staff wellbeing plan, she said, have been extraordinary.

Prioritising staff happiness at work has far-reaching effects. As well as greater harmony in the staff room, the process benefits pupils too. Here’s how to get a wellbeing programme started.

1 – Encourage open discussion and look at the hard truths

Create a forum for all staff members to be open and honest about how the pressures of work are affecting them. Consider fairness, consistency and any problems associated with workload.

2 – Start small

It’s far better to grow a wellbeing programme slowly and organically, than to set yourself up for failure with unsustainable projects. Motivational posters and small initiatives to support staff who appear to be struggling can start to bring the focus onto wellbeing. Also, give teachers and support staff the chance to contribute their ideas.

3 – Look at workload and work-life balance

Look at ways to manage workload more effectively, both at school and with marking or preparation done at home. Look for more efficient ways of sharing resources. For example, switching to more verbal feedback, rather than written, could cut down the amount of marking that needs to be done outside of school lessons.

4 – Ensure the leadership team are approachable

Having an open-door policy and supporting well-being practices within the school will help to make your school a happier place to be. It’s really important for staff to feel supported by their managers. Setting up a wellbeing team is a good idea.

5 – Offer tools

Provide opportunities for staff to learn about new techniques to cope with work pressures. Mindfulness activities and weekly priority lists are a good place to start. Cultivate an environment of increased awareness. The earlier problems are identified, the easier they are to resolve.

6 – Encourage increased social interaction

Positive interactions will help to nurture healthy relationships between colleagues. A simple smile and ‘how are you’ can be incredibly powerful. Try to encourage and establish a coaching culture where staff work together to support each other.

7 – Provide opportunities for exercise

Give staff the opportunity to take part in physical exercise, such as a running club, yoga or aerobics class. Ensure healthy options are available for lunch and provide easy access to water, so staff can keep hydrated throughout the day.

A simple wellbeing policy can create meaningful change for teachers.

5 effective ways to tackle bullying

Teacher comforting bullying victim in playground

Despite a plethora of well-meaning interventions, bullying is still a common problem in UK schools. In a recent report on bullying in The Guardian, Elizabeth Nassem, Researcher at Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, argues that many schools have not had adequate guidance or training on how to tackle bullying effectively.
Nassem, who has been researching bullying for more than 10 years, has found the most effective approach to bullying to be one that involves the pupils themselves. She argues, the best way to stamp out bullying behaviour is to build empathy between those affected.

It is common for schools to focus on the obvious forms of bullying, such as physical aggression, when in fact bullying can range from mild to severe from a whole spectrum of negative experiences. These experiences can be anything from name calling to full-blown hitting.

Involving children and advocating an anti-bullying culture is the way forward. Here are 5 ways teachers can achieve just that.

1 – Improve your understanding of bullying

Look beyond the labels of ‘bully’ and ‘victim.’ Ask the children in your class to share their experiences of bullying. Encourage open discussion about why children might bully others, and how they think it should be addressed. Encourage children to include ostracised pupils in activities. Create an environment where peers want to help each other.

2 – Offer mentoring

Offering mentoring to bullies is essential if you are serious about breaking patterns of negative behaviour. Helping the child understand why they engage in this type of behaviour will help them to respond in a more positive and respectful way in the future. Use role play to help the pupil understand the consequences of his or her actions and see through different responses.

3 – Encourage pupils to find solutions

Consult with children who engage in bullying and with those who experience bullying. Encourage children to talk about how they feel and how they can respond more productively to bullying behaviour or the things that trigger bullying behaviour.

Bullying research expert, Nassem, found in a recent study that pupils writing in diaries regularly were able to engage with bullies and resolve bullying behaviour much more frequently on their own as opposed to reporting the incident to teachers.

4 – Bring students together

When children are in conflict with one another, the underlying problem is more likely to be resolved when the two sides are brought together in a meeting. If the bully is able to explain why he or she is acting in that way, the victim is more likely to be able to play a constructive role in finding a solution.

5 – Create respectful relationships between staff and pupils

In order to create an environment of mutual respect between pupils, there needs to be a culture of respectful relationships between staff and children. Teachers should consistently speak to students with respect and listen to children. Pupils are then more likely to do the same with their peers.

4 essential ingredients for positive teaching in 2018

Teacher talking to pupils

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” (Einstein)

Teaching is a highly demanding job. There’s no shortage of challenge and staying positive throughout the school year isn’t always easy. Many teachers come back from the Christmas break feeling slightly jaded from over indulgence, but with every intention of making the New Year a positive one.

Throw in these 4 essential ingredients and you’ll have every chance of making it through the school year with a positive spin all the way to the summer holidays. Concentrate on the conditions and learning will happen.

1 – Be an inspiration

Great teaching can change lives. It’s what every great teacher aspires to do. You can give your pupils as much information as you like, but without an inspiring relationship with your class, much less learning will take place. Find connections with your students and use this to make the material you are teaching relevant. Your aim is to motivate. Teach your pupils to never miss an opportunity to be fabulous. Use your posture, presence and demeanour to support your endeavour.

Being an inspiration shouldn’t stop at the classroom door. Inspire colleagues to stay positive too.

2 – Plan your personal and professional growth

It’s no surprise to learn that teachers who have a growth plan, not just for their teaching career, but also for their personal life, often have greater success with their students. Teachers who are in learning, have a greater capacity to understand the difficulties and obstacles pupils face with their learning.

3 – Practice what you preach outside of school

Being a teacher is a vocation. That’s why many teachers end up doing additional teaching outside of school, such as at a YMCA or a youth project. Even if you don’t have time for that, address how you speak with friends in various situations and use positive dialogue to promote the growth of the teaching profession.

Staying positive inside and outside of school is probably the most difficult to carry out, but a positive attitude is a catalyst for positivity from your pupils in the classroom.

4 – Reinforce positive behaviours

Positive actions need to be taught. Don’t assume your pupils automatically know positive behaviours and what is expected of them. Create a classroom code of conduct to help the children in your class understand positive and negative behaviours. Ask your pupils the ways they like to be treated and elicit lists of behaviours that are respectful, fair, kind and empathetic.

Strengthen the motivation for sticking to the classroom behaviour code by recognising and acknowledging positive actions. Ultimately, you want students to identify with good behaviour and feeling good about themselves.

France bans mobile phones in schools

Cute pupils using mobile phone at the elementary school

France are ramping up efforts to pare back the amount of time children spend using their mobile phone by imposing a complete ban during the school day. The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced that all students in the country’s primary, junior and middle schools (that’s all children up to the age of 15) will be banned from using their mobile phones at anytime during the school day from September 2018.

While most education establishments in France already have a ban on phones during lesson time, pupils can currently still use their phones during breaks. Mr Blanquer, speaking on the French TV programme, Le Grand Jury, said “These days the children don’t play at break time anymore, they are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view that’s a problem.”

According to a report in The Telegraph on the French mobile phone ban in schools, studies suggest that a significant number of pupils continue to use their mobile phones in class and receive or send text messages. A Paris headmaster, Philippe Tournier conferred that up to 40 per cent of punishments are mobile-related, indicating that mobile use during lesson time is a significant problem.

The French government are keen to address the problem of mobile phone use amongst children, which they say is a public health issue, but headteachers across France are sceptical about how the rule can be enforced.

So, should the UK follow France’s lead? According to a snap poll carried out by Tes (the Times Educational Supplement), 72 per cent of teachers in the UK believe the UK should follow suit. A previous survey by Tes, Mumsnet and First News in 2016 revealed that teachers were split over the issue, with many teachers stating that phones were an important resource in learning.

On the recent snap poll, teacher and Tes writer, Joe Bipham, said: “I believe that protecting pupils for a few hours a day from the potential dangers is a good thing though and I would support it. However, clear guidelines about not having them out at all in school work as well as a national ban.

“Banning mobile phones in class doesn’t lead to technologically illiterate pupils who are unable to function in the modern world. Phones are a distraction, they are a safeguarding issue and they are divisive status symbols that can have some pretty awful consequences.”

Teachers in the UK are the one’s battling mobile phone use in the classroom. If teachers are calling for a ban, perhaps we should listen.