Here, Jo Creber, Deputy Head shares her thoughts on how we can support our girls through this time.
Promoting and securing the safety and well-being of pupils is perhaps the most important responsibility of a school especially here at Rye where it is something we pride ourselves on. During the lockdown, this responsibility has necessitated a change in usual working practices for schools across the country. Alongside the kinds of worries which can upset a pupil’s mental health in usual circumstances, pupils have faced worries over health, loneliness, anxiety over exams, and now uncertainty about their return to school. Our form tutors have worked hard over the lockdown period to maintain links with their pupils through email, Teams talk, phone calls, video messages and even some unexpected visits! PSHEE sessions have allowed pupils to discuss their feelings with their teachers. Mentors have supported younger pupils, and we will extend this programme when we return to school to ensure that all pupils have a trusted peer to whom they can talk – The Rye Way to Pastoral Support.
In 2019, YoungMinds consulted with young people to find out some of the things that impact on their mental health. The consultation found that 77% of young people said pressure to do well at school had a significant effect on their mental health, although this was, of course, before the Coronavirus pandemic. Ironically, although schools provide a source of stress for young people, they are also a resource of help, support, and information and are key in helping build resilience; and this has proved especially true over these past months.
So what can be done to support our children and young people, as they face anxiety about exam results and uncertainty about returning to school? YoungMinds says one of the key factors in promoting the mental health of young people is building relationships: “Spotting the signs and symptoms of possible mental health issues relies on having a relationship with that child so that you can notice when their behaviour is different from what is normal for them. The more relationships a child has in school the better because it is more likely that they will feel safe and comfortable enough to speak up when they are struggling.” Having regular dialogue with their form tutor, their PSHEE teacher, the safeguarding team, their mentor, their house captain or any member of the prefect team or teaching staff, will help to promote the overall well being of the child – we genuinely believe here at Rye – Be Well, Do Well.
Resilience is also key to supporting the mental well being of our pupils, and a feeling of belonging is an important aspect of this. Belonging to a friendship group, a form, a club or activity group helps pupils build relationships and promote a sense of belonging. Finding something the pupil enjoys, such as a hobby, a sport, creative writing or art, helps foster a sense of identity which can have a long-lasting positive impact on the child’s sense of self. Parents and teachers can support the pupils here through support and through the celebration of success, which in turn helps foster positive relationships and also encouraging engagement with one of the many enrichment clubs we have been running (and will continue to) through Microsoft Teams.
Over lockdown we have run a rich and varied Enrichment programme, and for our older pupils in Years 11 and 13, our bespoke Next Steps programme, preparing Year 11 for A-levels and Year 13 for University life. Both initiatives have hopefully given our pupils focus, routine, challenge and a chance to develop their own interests and build both their sense of self and promote their well-being. During a recent audit by our activities director, Kim Bland, many senior girls expressed an interest in developing the clubs and activities for younger pupils when we are back at school. It is an excellent example of the Rye community that even in a time of uncertainty, our pupils are keen to support each other. I look forward to increasing our enrichment programme in the coming months as this is key to helping promote the well being of our pupils, develop resilience and foster the sense of community for which Rye is known.