Three ex-students of mine recently spoke at a conference called ‘Healthy Minds: Turning the Tide’ at the University of East Anglia to over 150 people. Our presentation was about the CAMHS project which we took part in from 2005-2007 on social and emotional aspects of learning. Questionnaires taken at the start and the end of the project revealed a number of pleasing outcomes which are emboldened.
“Healthy Schools is about more than preparing for the Olympics … it’s about healthy minds too and ensuring you keep happy and emotionally balanced and don’t let your stress get on top of you!” said Chris, one of the school’s representatives, when kicking off proceedings.
Carmel then read a poem she had written at the start of Year 10 entitled ‘the true curriculum of schools’ for which she received a hearty round of applause. The poem was all about how school life can seem like a “mission” and how exams can seem to be the only important thing if you let them. It ended with the words …
“A chance to shine would be a treat,
For you are the one with the world at your feet.
This is the most important time,
For you to learn, you're in your prime,
Make sure your hidden gifts are seen,
For you are that ghost, just turned fifteen”
She then went on to talk about her involvement in making the Year 11 leaver’s book and explained how it gave all students a chance to get involved and to have a genuine ‘voice’ in their education. “All students had a real say in how the book was published, how many pages were in it, who won awards, how much it should cost, what should go in it, and of course in writing their own personal statement” said Carmel. “It was our project and it was our success”. By the end of the project there was a 15% increase in students who felt they had control of their own school-life and weren’t simply “told” what to do. Students could express their emotions in a number of ways.
Following on from this Ria showed the audience some photographs of the project’s anti-bullying and prom committees and explained how these had encouraged multi-layered friendships. “It gave us all a chance to work with people from other sets, year groups, teachers, parents, and outside agencies ranging from county advisors through to Fire Engine hire companies!” said she. Students had opportunities to make lots of different friendships and it also gave the school the chance to reward student success that wasn’t just about exams.
Chris then explained how students in the year group managed exam stress by following a form time scheme about stress-busting using mental health resources and having specialist staff talk to the year group about ways to keep your cool before showing some video footage of student reflections. “It’s about getting the balance right” said Chris. “More students achieved above their predictions than in previous years and so exam results were better as a result of the work we did”. 36% of the year achieved one grade above Yellis predictions in their GCSE examinations, an increase of 24% on the previous year.
I then explained why it is important for schools to care for student’s mental health and not just their exam results. The two go hand in hand. Making sure our school encourages positive mental health is especially important. Indeed, the government’s national strategy for the Key Stage tells us that “behaviour and attendance improvements start with staff understanding negative mental health”. Put simply, having ‘shiny, happy people’ means they get better results and become well-rounded adults who are able to cope with the ups and downs of life. By the end of the year student awareness of their own mental health had increased by 21%
Head teachers, County Advisors, the Principal Educational Psychologist for Norfolk, and even a Government Minister all commented on how mature, well balanced, and emotionally intelligent students leaving the school had become and our student representatives were given a warm round of applause as they concluded their lecture.
Any thoughts on how you are embedding social and emotional aspects of learning in your school would be very much welcomed.
Edited by Dan Guiney, 11 October 2008 - 12:24 PM.