Talk about your feelings, charity tells teachers and pupils

Schools need to develop a culture in which teachers and pupils talk freely about their feelings, according to new guidance produced by a leading children’s charity.

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) has published a new document intended to help schools ensure the emotional well-being of pupils and staff.

The guidance document, published on the charity’s website, states: “Well-being and health are everyone’s business.”

It calls on schools to “develop a culture in which talking about emotions and feelings, mental health and well-being is the norm, where it is acceptable to acknowledge difficulties and ask for help, where extra input to those with more serious problems can be provided in a coherent and non-stigmatising way, and where the whole school population has the skills and attitudes to support those with greater needs.”

The National Children’s Bureau has produced this advice in response to the rise in emotional disorders among school-aged children and teenagers. One in 10 children now has a diagnosed mental-health problem, or emotional and behavioural difficulties. The incidence of eating disorders is increasing, and one in 12 children is likely to self-harm.

School interventions, the guidance says, tend to be too short or too shallow to have any long-term effect. “Single, brief interventions or one-offs have never been shown to make a sustained impact,” it states.

However, intense interventions, provided several times a week and lasting for least nine months, have been proven to offer significant benefits. This is particularly the case in response to problems such as bullying and violence. These intense intervention programmes should then be followed by regular top-up sessions, reminding pupils of the lessons learnt.

Anna Feuchtwang, NCB chief executive, said: “Our aim is to give school leaders and their staff the best support to deliver effective interventions. This will impact on academic learning and motivation.”

She points out that the better children’s mental and emotional health, the better able they are to focus on their schoolwork and achieve good exam results.

In addition, the guidance recommends that pupils should feel that they have influence and a degree of control within the school. “Pupil voice is about genuine consultation and the authentic involvement of all students in appropriate decision-making about their own learning and…school life,” it states.

The guidance also points out that well-being in schools begins with the staff: “Staff need to take responsibility for identifying pupils in difficulty, be clear about what is ‘normal’ or a cause for concern, and make sure they know the early signs of mental-health problems.”

It adds that form tutors are particularly well-placed to look for changes to behaviour patterns, or to academic achievement or school attendance, which may be indications of greater problems.

Sue Williamson, chief executive of the Schools, Students and Teachers network, welcomed the guidance. “Successful schools have always recognised the significance of emotional and mental well-being across their school community,” she said.

“A school climate which fosters emotional well-being and positive mental health is reflected across the curriculum.”

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