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21st January 2021



So, mental health in schools has finally worked its way closer to the top of the education ‘things to do list’. It may have taken the effects of a global pandemic to highlight the necessity to address emotional well-being in schools, but now that we have a spotlight shining on it let’s make good use of the attention it has brought.

It is certainly not the intention of this blog to take the moral high ground, nor is it a soapbox to stand upon to say “I told you so” but merely to take an opportunity to nudge along the boulder perched at the top of a steep hill.

So, let’s get things rolling.

It would be fair to say that daily working conditions in the modern day school and / or college have be likened to the internal workings of a pressure cooker. Within the time frame of a generation, I have personally seen the change first hand through the years I have ‘lived’ inside them.
Whether sat behind the desk as a student or in front of the whiteboard as a teacher, the bubbling under the lid is unbearable.
Government targets placed on individual schools, stress of those targets placed onto Headteachers, to Senior Leaders, to the middle leaders, to classroom teachers and onto the students themselves, the need to have to pass or ‘get them to pass’ is simply unsustainable and not just pass, but to pass well.
Data tracking, flightpath monitoring, predicted attainment, targeted intervention.
“They can’t fail, we need to squeeze a four out of them, get them in for twilight”
Extra maths, less drama! Oh, the irony!
No wonder stress and anxiety in schools is at an all time high for its entire population!!
Surely with this unsustainable expectation for schools to produce record pass rates year after year and for students to pass higher and higher exam season after exam season things must change, even if it’s for the worse… Statistically!!
It all starts with the need for schools to become safe places to turn up to, safe places work in, safe places to just be. It is time that schools started to base performance on process and not output, for schools to set about working parties on how to create a well-being culture within a school?
My instinct tells me that for schools to achieve this they don’t necessarily need to do more, but in many cases less!
I wish my voice was loud enough to encourage policy at the highest levels to ease a return to the days when conversations with your teacher about last night’s football results was your first uttering in French, or how your favourite celebrity in Strictly was voted out in Maths. All of the relationship building ‘banter’ and off piste conversation has now been replaced with a silent starters, tasks on tables from second one, date underlined and objectives written down before we start.
They say if you stand still long enough, you become an innovator!  Well that may just have me newly appointed to the dizzy heights of Education reform.
I must add at this point, in my twenty years of education, I have far from stood still. As a Head of Physical Education in an all boy comprehensive Sports College in Hastings, as a department we led from the front on many new initiatives. Curriculum reform, examination PE, Youth Sport Trust Initiatives, Teaching and Learning policy, behaviour systems, specialist subject whole school permeation and a department graded as ‘outstanding’ in the five clip board marches, I mean OFSTED inspections we endured, I mean underwent. The list of new was endless, but never to the detriment of our values and pastoral passions.
We had a saying within the department…
“take old school good over modern day outstanding”
When observed and correlated against a clip board of criteria, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two. The only difference I saw was one had more kids in PE with smiles, the other had more kids in PE with pencils.

So, less is more. Yep!!

How a ten-minute gaze out of a window was seen as being needed from time to time as a way of calming down and a means of not distracting others.
  • Scheme of work skeletons, left for staff to sprinkle their magic ‘lay-up lesson onto’.
  • Long half population registrations from time to time to establish / confirm departmental expectations.
  • Throwing a pen from a huge stash of pens you have in your drawer because the kid who has forgot his / lost his / ate his/ threw it at his mate in science hasn’t got one and if he hasn’t got one he is going to be a pain in the arse!!
  • A head of year that ran an entire year group using just the words “be nice!” Nothing less, but anything more is a bonus!
  • The most wonderful whole school house system that would rival Hogwarts, for that intense sense of community.
  • And fixtures, fixtures, fixtures.

It wasn’t a holiday camp, but at times on a sunny day on the back filed with 120 ‘in kit’ students all playing cricket it felt like it. We worked hard at making it easy. It was easy, in a tough school, because we loved it and the kids loved being there!

For those of you who have seen it, we were a little bit like the BBC detective Luther. We did much good, but sometimes had to go around the houses to get it!

What was the secret!

We were serious about not being serious! And we laughed, a lot! With the kids, at the kids, at each other, at ourselves!!

Over time our schools have become battery farm grade factories. Lesson after lesson of robotic formalised approaches in an objective driven five-hour existence. Moving from period to period, break, then lunch, then home.

Teachers given scripted lesson openers, restricted behaviour systems with mono tone one size fits all sanctions.

A rather damming insight and of course a generalised one, but one that I have slowly seen develop and become the norm over a generation of students.

So where does a school start to embed a well-being culture that cares for its entire population?

If by reading this blog you wish to be led by a sentence or two on ‘How to solve stress and anxiety in schools’, I fear that I run the risk of you scrolling through, crossing off or swiping me away. Effective mental health provision will certainly require more than a few bullet points inserted into a school or college improvement plan. Mental health requires a test match mentality and not a T20 blast!

I have no out and out solution, no one size fits all, no SIMPLY DO THIS approach, but I do know of helpful and useful notions that can be explored and successfully implemented into large organisations.

The key lies in the delivery of emotional intelligence.

Imagine teaching the ability to gain an awareness and understanding of thoughts and feelings. Not just our own, but also of others around us.

Imagine teaching an understanding of how these thoughts and feelings make us feel physically.

Imagine understanding the resultant body sensation and how these somatic responses make us behave.

Imagine teaching how to regulate reactivity to our emotions and how to de-escalate undesired outcomes.

Imagine creating a ‘useful’ and ‘helpful’ pastoral vocabulary that makes the explanation of our ‘stuff’ more simple.

USEFUL, HELPFUL AND STUFF being excellent examples of this.

Eg What would be useful?

Eg What would be helpful?

Eg What ‘stuff’ do you have today?

Imagine accepted terminology known, understood and used freely between staff and students alike.

Imagine a school population who can verbalise the here and now for them, preventing the table flip, the storm out, or the verbal barrage (and that’s just in the middle leaders meeting!!)

Imagine an encouragement for the school population to not compare, but a conscious promotion of themselves to be at the centre of their own learning process.

And the insistence for individuals to grow resilience when challenged, to try, try, try again and once more if needs be.

I can. I can see one, but it involves a culture of honest, authentic and genuine exploration. To be challenged and be able to regulate our reactivity.

Breaking down our stresses and anxieties into smaller and more manageable ‘chunks’ could be the best advice I can give during this blog. For the T20, knee jerk, 37 second scrollers. (did you know that on average people take 37 seconds to decide if they want to carry on reading an article, I guess if you have got this far you are way above average or you are a bloody quick reader).

If you have skim read my ‘above’ you may have stumbled across the following bullet points and they may well become the latest improvement headings or the 6 week PSHE Mental Health scheme of work lessons. But for the more considered, the steps below may become your ideology, culture, environment shapers. Using them to create a bespoke approach to a school that only you know best.

My suggestions below, merely provide a skeleton for well-being change and the promotion of an emotionally intelligent community. Cultures just don’t arrive overnight. They need time! They grow! They gather momentum! They become sticky!

READ TIPPING POINT, by Malcolm Gladwell!!

Whole school involvement, student voice, departments, faculties, year groups, middle leaders and the courage and bravery of senior leadership pulling together to discover what is important in your school.

My points below, shape a stress and anxiety workshop and school based counselling provision that has helped to embed emotional intelligence approaches to schools. The points can assist with the writing of behavioural policies, exam stress, staff well-being policy, whole school improvements.

So here they are:

1. Identifying ‘stuff’.

Knowing your STUFF is incredibly helpful. Everybody has ‘STUFF’. What is your ‘STUFF?’ You know your ‘STUFF’. STUFF can get BIG. You know that your STUFF has got BIG as it greets us when we wake, or it is our last thought at night. It can arrive with us with a bang or creep up on us, unaddressed over time. What is your STUFF? How BIG is your STUFF?

2. Identifying HOTSPOTS and TRIGGERS.

When does your ‘STUFF’ appear? It won’t be all day, all week? Can you narrow this down to specific moments? Social time, data capture time, maths, lunch queues. What specific moment makes it a HOT SPOT? What is your TRIGGER? What happens in the lead up to your hotspot?

3. Identifying Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviours, Body Sensations.

How do you feel? What do you think? How do you behave? How does your body react to your ‘stuff’? Does it go bang? Are you numbed? How long is your fuse? Do you inhale? Do you explode out? Are you a flipper, runner, freezer?

4. Identifying Pressures.

What are your pressures? Where do they come from? Are they your pressures? Are they somebody else’s?

5. Safety Routines.

How can you regulate your reactivity to your ‘stuff’? How can you lead yourself back out of the moment? Can we turn you ON / OFF switch into a ‘dimmer switch’? Can we identify ‘notches in between ON and OFF. Out with harsh sounding ALL or NOTHING.

In with softer notions of ALL – OFTEN – SOMETIMES – RARELY - NOTHING

6. Have fun, enjoy what you do.

Have fun at school? Try and laugh at school? Be serious about not being serious… all the time!

On their own the above points simply remain only points with brief explanations as to how they may be used. With an honest approach and courage to ‘go there’, the above points may help to shape a whole school vision on how it deals with mental health with a tailored and bespoke provision.

Imagine what a wonderful place a school could be…. I do, often!!

I wish you well.

Take care,



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