‘Mental health is at the core of all we do’

Posted on: 17 May 2023
Posted by: Emma Gill

In a blog to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Emma Gill, headteacher at Wakefield Grammar Pre-Preparatory School, explains how the school prioritises the mental wellbeing of pupils and staff.

When we opened our new school 18 months ago, we spoke to the staff and parents about what they wanted for our pupils. Overwhelmingly, amongst academic success and extracurricular experiences, parents wanted their children to be happy, to recognise emotions and have the strategies to manage them. Personal development is not just about the ‘extras’ in school. We have worked hard to ensure the behaviour curriculum is clear, concise and child friendly. This means the children understand, model and can talk about it, while acting as ambassadors for the school with an understanding of how they are expected to behave.

That said, we are also aware of the age and developmental stages of the children and know these behaviours take time to embed. In recognition, we have developed a programme that acknowledges emotions and helps give children a toolkit for managing overwhelming feelings. All the children in school can talk about the ‘zones of regulation’ - a systematic, cognitive-behavioural approach used to teach children how to regulate feelings, energy and sensory needs (Leah M Kuypers) and know how to articulate these emotions. The children discuss how the characters in our Philosophy for Children texts may feel, using the zones to identify these emotions as well as strategies to help them move within the zones. Philosophy for Children (P4C) has been embedded in school since its introduction two years ago. P4C helps children to discuss ‘big’ and sometimes ‘abstract’ concepts such as love, family and kindness through texts and other stimuli; giving the children a safe space to pose and answer questions in a tolerant and accepting forum.

The key place these ‘big emotions’ tend to present is on the playground. We are aware of this and have reviewed our playtime and lunchtime offer to suit the needs of all the children. Designated activity zones and activity zone managers ensure there is exciting provision that changes during the year, depending on pupil feedback. This ranges from gross motor activities such as skipping, cycling and using scooter boards to taking part in mental challenges such as chess, reading, and problem solving in the construction area.

We run a programme that puts wellbeing at the centre of school life – for children, staff and parents. This has included our wellbeing evening in February, which addressed some key issues for parents; sleep, anxiety, bedwetting, and reluctant readers, to name a few. The underlying message was that parents need to be ‘good enough’ and cannot, nor should not, aim to be perfect. Our leadership team is working to complete the Carnegie Mental Health Award with Leeds Beckett University. We have discussed mental health with the children on many occasions; it is at the core of all we do. This applies to staff too. Our assistant head has worked with the staff to identify workload issues and staff have redecorated and enhanced the staffroom to ensure colleagues have a pleasant and calm area within school.

Our advice to other schools is to make wellbeing a priority. Keep it on the agenda, talk about it with all your stakeholders and make time to reflect on what is successful. This may be different in your own school and you need to do what works for your community. We have worked with Adrian Bethune from Teachappy as well as external agencies such as The Children's Sleep Charity. Our learning support team has been kept informed and works alongside the strategies we have implemented in school, as have the junior sections our children transition to. This ensures continuity for pupils and parents.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

About Emma Gill

Emma Gill is head at Wakefield Grammar Pre-Preparatory School.