As a parent, your child’s happiness should - and will - always come first.
That point extends to life at George Watson’s College, where our first priority will always be the wellbeing of every pupil.
Attitudes towards mental health have shifted significantly over the last ten years, and at our school we’ve taken many positive steps to provide support and create a safe, inclusive environment for all our pupils. We work to provide the right support, at the right time, to the right people.
This includes the training and support needed for our staff to identify opportunities to intervene as early as possible.
Our preventative strategy is based on the idea of being proactive about promoting good mental health. This means we give our pupils the tools to build resilience to cope when things don’t go according to plan.
And here’s something important. If you take nothing else away from this piece it should be that we want our pupils to be mentally well, not so they can achieve academically but because doesn’t every young person deserve to be happy?
In our Senior School, we have a Deputy Head - Lesley Doward - who brilliantly leads a ‘hub’ of pupil support and other colleagues, as well as a team of highly trained specialists in their fields.
Our view is that every day we need to work hard to weave a safety net to ensure our pupils’ wellbeing. So, here are five things you should know about our approach and commitment to good mental health at Watson’s.
Knowing our pupils
In our Senior School, we’ve refreshed the role of Form Tutors in recent years. Staff provide a first level source of guidance (FLG) to ensure that pupils are supported by an adult who sees them every day. The actual amount of face to face time has been increased, too, so that pupils can be known in greater depth.
This teacher will continue to accompany their group of pupils throughout their Senior School journey.
Staff and pupils are also supported by a Year Head, and Head of Guidance, and a progression coordinator. They are there to make sure that the journey through school, and across multiple subjects is smooth.
Of course, it’s not just Form Tutors who are responsible for the wellbeing of pupils. That responsibility is something all of our staff have responsibility for.
All of this is framed through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. Watson’s is a Gold Rights Respecting School and so we believe in the principle of getting it right for every child (GIRFEC). When it comes to a child’s wellbeing they should be: safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included. These eight factors are often referred to by their initial letters, SHANARRI.
No substitute for training and expertise
Lesley’s core team comprises around 30 staff who are trained in a range of specialist areas including anxiety, depression, oppositional disorders and attention difficulties amongst others.
They are NHS trained mental health first aiders and have training in dealing with specific events, such as the loss of a parent. In 2021, our ‘hub’ staff will undertake suicide prevention training.
We also have an Educational Psychologist on our staff, and a partnership with Crossreach Counselling to make targeted interventions and provide a little extra support.
Our network goes well beyond the school gates and includes a range of external agencies who provide advice and support and when it's needed such as Social Care departments within local authorities, CAMHS, the Public Protection Unit, along with projects such as Sunflower Garden and Amber Mediation.
In a wider sense, all staff take part in mandatory safeguarding and child protection training, whilst a range of professional learning opportunities are provided with experts in their field.
Our parents have responded positively to the opportunity to attend events specially designed to give them the support and understanding needed to parent a child, particularly as they enter their teenage years. This isn’t about pithy pieces of advice but genuine information and insight that they tell us has made a huge difference at home.
Taking on difficult subjects
Research evidenced in the Scottish Government’s National Suicide Prevention Plan shows that talking about difficult things like suicide does not act as a trigger. Therefore, it is really important that we face difficult issues in safe, inclusive spaces. Pupils learn about drugs, self-harm, sexual exploitation or violence.
These are challenging things to talk about, but everything we do is based on identifying the right age, stage and approach to ensure our pupils understand risks in order to make good choices - or get help when it’s needed.
In S6 our pupils each have an individual tutor, who they can choose. They are encouraged to build a strong relationship so that they’re ready when the time comes to leave school.
We also have a range of mandatory courses from things like money management, coercive behaviour and even the importance of safe driving. Again specialist agencies or charities support us in this work so that pupils hear first hand from those with lived experience, which is so valuable.
We believe in the power of our pupils and so there are a number of projects that our pupils have played a huge part in developing, such as Headstogether, Wild Minds (Mindfulness), our LGBT+ Support and Seasons for Growth.
Peer mentoring is also incredibly important. Our older pupils are provided with the training to participate in a range of programmes that enable pupil-to-pupil support such as Learning Support, UNITED and IT Ambassadors.
Underpinning this is an attitude that we can all play our part, in being kinder, more supportive of each other and showing greater empathy. These are big themes that form an important part of our assembly programme.
Whole school or year group assemblies provide us with the opportunity to address stigma, misconceptions whilst living our values by celebrating successes.
Monitoring & evaluation
Through a programme of qualitative and quantitative evaluation, we’re building a clearer picture of the wellbeing of our pupils.
School wide surveys are supported by channels such as via Pupil Council and Form Captains to sense check how pupils feel. We’re placing a greater emphasis on the use of data, too. We use our management information system (MIS) 3Sys to monitor and recognise pupil behaviour and achievement.
We are also looking at ways of increasing our ability to anticipate which pupils may need support so that we can help steer them through difficult times. This will include using digital tools which make good use of artificial intelligence (AI).
Applications to join our school for session 2021/22 close on Friday 13 November.
Click here to apply for your place - the process takes about ten minutes
HeadsTogether - Sam Davidson runs the group, there's a video here.