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Mental health support must be available at Islington schools so kids can be ‘best they can be’

PUBLISHED: 10:09 11 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:09 11 July 2018

The Duchess of Cambridge talking to students at the officially opening of Place2Bes new home in Clerkenwell. Photo by Place2Be

The Duchess of Cambridge talking to students at the officially opening of Place2Bes new home in Clerkenwell. Photo by Place2Be

Archant

Mental health support must be available at school so all kids “can be the best they can be”, according to Islington headteachers.

An officer from mental health charity Place2Be talking to students. Photo by Place2be An officer from mental health charity Place2Be talking to students. Photo by Place2be

Teachers are increasingly being seen as crucial in spotting vulnerable kids whose lives could be transformed for the better by early intervention.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School has worked closely with Islington Council over the past three years to ensure pupils’ positive mental health and resilience is at the forefront of the curriculum.

Associate headteacher Tina Southall told the Gazette students at the girls’ secondary school are spoken to about issues such as sexting – the exchange of sexually explicit messages and photos via mobile phones – and the inappropriate use of social media.

“As well as offering an outstanding education at our school, it is also vital that we develop resilience among children who are experiencing difficult times in a changing modern world,” she said.

An officer from mental health charity Place2Be talking to students. Photo by Place2beAn officer from mental health charity Place2Be talking to students. Photo by Place2be

“Without positive mental health, there is a danger that our students won’t get to where they need to be.

“Of course, academic success is important, but we want our students to be well-rounded individuals capable of being the best that they can be.”

Despite believing today’s young people are more open to discussion, Tina says government cuts have made it more challenging for schools to provide as much support as possible.

She said: “We cannot change what is going on outside of the school, but we can do our utmost to support our students here.

New North Academy headteacher Nicola PercyNew North Academy headteacher Nicola Percy

“There needs to be more frontline mental health support in this country.”

A source of external aid to schools across the borough is Place2Be, which works to provide early intervention against mental health issues that many young people carry into their adult lives.

The charity supports children and young people each year who face a range of issues – whether it’s bullying in the playground or the death of a parent, exam stress or witnessing domestic violence at home.

Nicola Percy, who is headteacher of New North Academy, has witnessed first hand the impact Place2Be has had in helping to spot signs early.

“I think it’s important that being aware of the stresses and strains on many of living in an incredibly fast paced and technology driven society makes it vital that we recognise the value and duty we have to promote good mental health with all, and not just those who are struggling,” she told the Gazette.

“To learn successfully, you’ve got to be in the head space where you’re happy and resilient, with skills to help navigate the tough times, which we can all face no matter our circumstance or age.

“We absolutely believe in helping children develop and strengthen these skills and strategies as early as possible – supporting them to be successful not just academically but also in managing their wellbeing too.”

Place2Be moved to its new headquarters in St John Street in March with the express aim of training more professionals who can speak to children suffering in silence at school.

The move – from further north in the borough at City Road – was marked with an official opening ceremony attended by charity patron the Duchess of Cambridge.

Robert Blair Primary School is one of eight specially designed “Art Room” studios in Edinburgh, Oxfordshire and London, where art is used as a vehicle to help kids with emotional or behavioural difficulties.

Art Room – which merged with Place2Be earlier this year – says children who attend its sessions show “reduced anxiety, improved emotional regulation, better peer relationships and greater self-confidence”.

Thanks to funding from The Lord Mayor’s Appeal, over the next two academic years Place2Be is offering 180 schools in Greater London free access to its Mental Health Champions: School Leader programme, where teachers will receive in-house training in Clerkenwell.

The sessions see teachers discovering the best mental health strategy for their individual school.

Training tracks how health issues can arise from a young age when young children feel detached from their parents or carers.

And teachers are given advice on how to help students with chaotic lifestyles.

Schools can register their interest at place2be.org.uk/London.

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