A film by Daniel Gordon has been released lauding one London Primary School for introducing a series of measures to combat the growing trend of poor mental health in children.
[You can watch the video here]
Highgate Primary School, has embraced several innovative measures to improve their pupils mental well-being, from dogs in the playground, sound proofed classrooms and the availability of talk therapy and psychotherapy for each student.
The school has normalised the process of attending therapy so each child feels no stigma should they wish to use the service.
The school is said to be delivering a 'well-being first’ approach. They offer on the premises drama therapy, and talk therapy which one in ten of the schools pupils attend. Most of the therapists are trainees or new graduates so with the combination of some charity funding and a small investment of £7000 per year from the school they are able to directly tackle the rise of mental health disorders in young people which is on the rise throughout the UK.
Watch the video and you can see the school has its own dog and also allows dogs to attend the school premises at drop off and pickup times.
Highgate has implemented 5 key measures to combat poor mental health.
1. Availability of Therapy
2. Dogs are allowed on site.
3. Soundproofed classrooms.
4. Lessons outside.
5. School is for parents too.
Every child has some lessons outside where they can engage with each other and climb trees. The classroom soundproofing allows teachers to command attention without raising their voices due to improved acoustics and the parents of pupils can also access the onsite therapists meaning the impact on the community doesn't just stop at the children but can resonate outwards to have a positive effect on the children’s households which can only help support a culture of well-being at home.
The amount of children attending Highgates onsite therapists is statistically mirrored by the data released from NHS digital last year that indicated one in nine children experience mental health disorders. That figure is for 5-15 year old's however if we broaden the scope to 5-19 year old's the figure becomes one in eight.
In the age group of 17-19 year olds one in four young women have a mental health disorder, emotional disorders such as anxiety ranking the highest. Over half of these reportedly have attempted suicide or self-harm.
Statistics like these are an important warning that the impacts of mental health disorders are very real and schools who go out of their way to combat the issues should be applauded and considered to delivering best practise.
Whilst many argue that schools already have a priority to educate and aren’t qualified to deliver therapy this school has shown how the introduction of several small but effective measures can shift the culture internally to become a learning space which caters for mental health well-being without costing a fortune or requiring massive change to be effective.
The mental health foundation has a 'Make It Count' Campaign which states that Mental Health is not extracurricular. You can find out more about the campaign here.
Mark Rowland Chief Exec of the Mental Health Foundation said
"The school environment has a significant impact on a young person’s emotional welfare. For children’s well being to thrive during school hours, teachers need the confidence and knowledge to nurture young people’s development. Equally, teachers need to be supported with their own mental health throughout their career.
By exploring the root causes that lead to distress, be it body image, relationships or exam stress, we can help build resilience and prevent mental health problems from developing in the first place. "
You can sign the foundations petition to put mental health at the heart of school culture here.
The previous education secretary Damien Hinds said every single school in the country should have a school dog. Here's a video showcasing therapy dogs in schools on channel 5 news.
Now in the spirit of introducing small changes to impact mental health in schools we would be remiss if we didn’t point you towards our try before you buy student standing desk trials.
Hundreds of schools nationwide are becoming healthier and embracing movement and physical literacy to create more attentive learning spaces by introducing standing desks into the classroom.
Take a look at our product range and apply for a trial if your school could benefit from improved engagement, better mental health, happier, better behaved children and improved academic results.
The same week the vast majority of teachers have moved against high stake primary school testing such as SAT's via a ballot of members at the UK's largest Education Union another news piece has surfaced indicating that the majority of Head teachers are against mandatory baseline testing of primary school children on entry to primary school.
54,500 primary school teachers voted en-mass against the SATs means of testing as it negatively impacts children’s mental health and puts schools under undue pressure to hit benchmarks the government can hold them accountable to. Nick Gibb, the school standards minister however said that this number doesn’t even represent half the profession and that the tests had been around since 1990 and are designed to improve the standard of teaching in our schools.
Despite Gibbs insistences it seems the general consensus from head teachers is that the government are insisting on mandatory tests in order to measure the schools progress and an initial test to be used as a yardstick from which progress can be measured. However head teachers have argued vehemently that the £10 Million it will take to implement the newly proposed baseline testing for primary school joiners is completely unnecessary and the pitfalls of introducing this system include labelling children who speak English as a second language or those with SEN needs could be "unnecessarily labelled as low-ability"
“We already have an appropriate baseline that does not take staff too much time,” one teacher wrote. ”The baseline is used to identify gaps in learning and development for the staff to support the child, not locked away for seven years.”
Research carried out by staff at University College London’s Institute of Education surveyed 288 head teachers and only 8% of which spoke positively about the suggested testing regime due to become mandatory in 2020.
Some head teachers suggested some schools will “game” the system by underpreparing pupils for the baseline test in order to show greater demonstrable improvements when the government revisits and measures against the initial results.
Jill Robinson of More Than a Score who commissioned the head teacher interviews said;
“Heads agree with education experts and parents: this scheme is a waste of everyone’s time and a waste of £10m,”
“It has no basis in academic theory or even simple logic. It is simply another way for the government to judge schools, using unreliable and unfair testing methods.
“A batch of reception pupils will be used as guinea pigs when they should be settling into school and the government still can’t tell us how they’ll use the data which will be extracted from these four-year-olds.
“It’s time for the DfE to admit failure and halt the roll-out of this pointless and damaging experiment."
Parents tried to oppose the plans via a legal challenge however this was overturned at the high court.
A spokesperson for the DfE said that the baseline checks are simply standardising the way schools carry out their own baseline checks.
“We are confident that the reception baseline assessment will lighten the load for schools, which will no longer have to carry out whole-class assessments at the end of year two, or deal with the test papers and administration that comes with that, while also being stress-free for children.
“We have been listening carefully to feedback we have received throughout the development process to ensure we get the experience right for pupils and schools.”
We are certainly in a time where education staff are at odds with the government as to the best way to measure the success of UK education standards and one way or another change is going to be required to find common ground between both parties’ priorities. A SATS strike occured this year and the majority of voting teachers at the large union meeting had voted in favour of this action so from one year to the next our children could be having vastly different experiences.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) staged the boycott which meant that nearly 200,000 children missed the SATs. This inconsistency is without a doubt not in our children’s interest in this writer’s opinion however if it results in the reduction of high stress testing of our young learners then it may well be what they call a necessary evil.
Wherever you lie on this issue we'd love to hear from you in the comments or via out social channels.
BBC Panorama has reported that an Academy head ordered her staff to cheat on Sat’s tests.
Suzanne Barham spoke to TV documentary Panorama and details how she was instructed to provide the answers to pupils that were struggling in the 11 year old test environment.
"We were told to go and work with specific children and to give them a little help.
"That's what happened, those children were given answers.
"You know it's not what should happen. You know it's the wrong thing, it's not going to help the children."
Citing a fear that she would lose her job if she didn't do as instructed Barham told Panorama she also was ordered to change test scores at three schools in 2017.
The Academy is effectively being dissolved and enveloped by another trust. Silver Birch says the current trustees cannot be held responsible for its earlier actions.
The trusts chief Exec Patricia Davies allegedly also ordered Barham to help children cheat in a reading exam.
"Mrs Davies called me into her office, and it's a reading paper, so you can't read it to them, and she said, 'I want you to read it for them'.
"I said, 'but it's a reading test.' She went, 'yes, I know'.
"You did what Pat told you to do, otherwise, you knew you wouldn't have a job, and so I read that paper."
Parents understandably were not happy to hear about the cheating. One Mother was stood at the gates when children came bounding out delighted they had been allowed to cheat
"The boys were quite vocal, as they thought it was funny, they thought it was hilarious: 'We cheated, we cheated, they let us cheat'.
"They were skipping up the hill screaming it out."
Startlingly the Standards and Testing Agency have investigated the allegations of cheating and let the results stand. The BBC have written about one girl who witnessed a teacher walk up to her desk during an exam and point at an answer saying "That’s the answer" the girl said “I was so annoyed. I just looked at her like, 'what are you doing, this is a test'."
Barham explained that the trust gave her sheets of paper with the actual results on and specific results scrubbed out with a request to change them in order to falsify and inflate how well the school was doing.
She resigned when the academy was taken over by another trust.
The academy is closing due to financial issues.
Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to abolish Sat’s testing in favour of teaching “not to the test.”
A ballot of 54,000 primary school members of the NEU showed that 97 percent backed the campaign to scrap the tests which have been heralded as damaging to children’s mental health due to the high pressure environment and anxiety inducing process.
The criticisms of Sat’s testing often come from the fact that they exist as a means for schools to be measured against one another as opposed to having the welfare and education of the pupils at the forefront.
“Test-driven primary assessment is damaging children’s mental health and wellbeing; it intensifies the stress on teachers. Preparing children for Sat’s squeezes out other parts of the curriculum.”
- Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU
The woman whose child cannot be named is set to take action against the government. The child has autistic spectrum disorder and spent over a month in the isolation room, expected to stay silent with no directed teaching and only three toilet breaks a day.
A pre action letter from Simpson Millar read “[isolation] has caused her depression. It also led to her taking an overdose while in the isolation room itself,” they said. “Following pre-action correspondence from us, [the school] has removed her from isolation.”
The same firm took action on behalf of a boy who had ADHD had spent 35 days in isolation within one year. The academy's policy meant that failing a day in isolation meant another day in isolation creating a perpetual cycle. The boy is said to have gone from being "a cheerful, bubbly boy" to developing "anxiety and depression."
The use of isolation booths or consequence rooms has been criticised as being barbaric. With recent news that 45 schools in England excluded at least 20% of their pupils it would seem we are at a point where schools and academies are experiencing funding crisis to adequately educate or provide support for children with special needs so isolation is being used a one stop shop to fix behavioural problems alongside excessive measures such as exclusion.
A recent report has shown that pupils with special needs or impoverished backgrounds are more statistically likely to be expelled and are also more likely to be sent to isolation rooms.
Sitting children in rooms for long periods of time with sensory deprivation, no socialisation and no direct teaching is tantamount to an early experience of prison.
One academy’s policy reads;
“You will be allowed to go to the toilet up to a maximum of three times during the day (maximum five minutes per visit),” the policy reads. “You must use the closest toilet and go directly there and back. You will be escorted to get your lunch, but you must stay silent.” one mother whose son had lost out on days of education said “It’s a small booth. They can’t look left or right, they can’t look behind. They have to focus in front all the time. They can’t speak to anyone for the whole day. It’s basically an internal exclusion. It’s barbaric.”
In light of increasing mental health issues amongst our children (One in ten of them have mental health issues) this writer finds it downright disturbing that schools are using such punitive measures which will not only contribute to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem but can also perpetuate the obesity crisis by expecting some children to sit a booth for up to 8 hours at a time.
As the government is only now paying attention to the use of such extreme disciplinary action under the assault of lawsuits hitting the Department of Education we propose that parents start to take a stand against these overzealous punitive measures and act the questions of their schools what their stance on isolation is and ask to see their policy on the matter.
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” - John Stuart Mill
Schools can take measures to improve their onsite commodities for children with special needs by installing standing desks which hundreds of schools in the UK now employ as a measure to help fidgety or SEN kids keep focus whilst being afforded some freedom of movement which reduces in class disruptions significantly.
If your school wants to try before you buy classroom standing desks then fill in this quick form and get started.
I remember watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a child and most frightening image that has stayed with me throughout my years from that movie is that of the net wielding child catcher.
Well I hate to write it but ...he's back! ...and this time his lollipops and treacle tarts are facebook likes and fortnite loot crates. His net has grown bigger into a world wide web to snare you with and some of the largest corporations in the world are sponsoring him. How can he possibly lose?
Children are spending more time online than ever before. According to research, 86 per cent of school children now have their own phone, and that includes 28 per cent of eight- to 11-year-olds.
Video game systems sit under the majority of kids televisions. Over 70% of US school kids have a TV in their room. The culture shift towards technology has happened and our children are growing up within this unchartered territory. The question is how we help them navigate it in the face of exploitative video game and social companies who opportunistically create persuasive technology to keep our children online even longer so their user data can be harnessed and sold or their habits reformed to become paid for loot box opening machines.
The field of creating inescapable technology is called “Captology” its right there in the name. Captives. Don't climb into the back of the cart kids. It's a trap.
The World Health Organisation now recognises “gaming disorder.” An addiction which has downsides like any other that left untreated can have legitimate negative impacts. Now in a climate where this is recognised albeit somewhat controversially as a real issue, should we really allow companies such as Bungie the creators of AAA video game "Destiny" an online looter shooter which crosses over the most addictive genres of video games (FPS and MMORPG) to employ the services of addiction consultants to integrate systems and processes into their games which will keep the player online with the promise of more powerful gear for repeated playing on a daily basis.
Some addiction experts have suggested that video gaming is more addictive than cocaine or heroin due to the reward systems they utilise. Meanwhile games such as Rocket League and Anthem give you additional rewards in the form of virtual currency or XP (Experience Points) for playing with your friends on a regular basis. Season passes are now geared towards developing the player into a repeat visitor to the game to reap the greatest rewards and they're not shy about using social pressure to do it. "Come on Joe! If you complete this mission with me the clan bonus should give me enough XP to buy the new gun that’s only on sale until midnight"
Gamers and social media users are often finding themselves demonstrating compulsive behaviours. A need to get back online, mental health and social relationships deteriorating due to obsessive behaviours. Children afflicted by gaming addiction can now seek treatment on the NHS. Children are being hospitalised as a result of this newly identified disorder meanwhile the company behind Fortnite in one month alone last year made $296 million across all their platforms as a result of micro transactions and downloadable content provision. Starkly contrasted outcomes from provider to user. Uncanny that a term often thrown around when discussing substance abuse is what game designers often call the gamer.
Social media companies have gone to town including push notifications to mobile devices. The universally understood like systems in their platforms giving users the constant approval and validation that their every thought has been well received by their peers.
In the UK Chief medical officer Prof Dame Sally Davies has warned social media companies to reduce addictive technology or face new laws to ensure they do so with costly fines for failing to meet the targets. The Financial Times says they expect legislature to come into play as early as this year to force companies such as Facebook to stop using the Like system to nudge people back onto their platform over and over again throughout the day.
In the US the government is working towards minimising "Dark Patterns" of app and website user interfaces designed to trick users into to doing things they dont want to do. This could be giving up their data, disallow users to leave a service by creating a roach motel which makes it impossible to find an exit to a service or a subscribed marketing email or tricking you into subscribing to a paid service or giving up your friends contact information. Check out this excellent video to better understand dark patterns.
Also under fire are advertisers who intentionally target vulnerable groups such as children with their marketing. In the UK We recently reported that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood has called for stricter rules in place for junk food companies to tame their child focused marketing including the banning of friendly characters to advertise junk food and pushing back junk food advertising after a 9pm watershed.
Well, the government is trying to play catch up with the changing face of the internet and the negative impact on child mental health this entails. 1 in 10 children now have mental health problems. Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology says “A system wide rethinking of technology policy and design is in order”
In the UK the Chief Medical Officers say we need to ban screens at meal and sleep times. Understandable advice when you consider that the light emit from screens proactively stops the body from falling asleep.
Critics of the new laws cite issues around 'state control' and governmental intervention being a quick road to internet censorship. One Financial Times reader commented "I see little evidence that parents are equipped or able to exert positive influence on their children's habits. The evidence is that the parents are as addicted, as unaware and as unconscious when it comes to use of Internet connected media."
Videogames and social media platforms are at their most addictive. They have been designed that way. Snapchat offer streaks for using unique emoji’s day after day, games such as Fortnite are now considered to be topping the lists of most addictive games according to experts yet it's designed to target children with comical graphics and easy to replicate dances and poses. Numerous young children play the game obsessively.
There are now Fortnite dance classes popping up to get kids moving by teaching them all the in game moves. (Fun idea right!) I overheard two kids quizzing each other on what level they had achieved only yesterday. Why do they care? Because that’s how success is measured in online games now.
Games used to be a case of if you completed it then you had done the most successful thing you could do within the game. However this is a long obliterated concept now as games have been intentionally created and having no finish line. The finish line is perpetually pushed back in order to keep the player on the hamster wheel a little longer.
This is known as "The Grind". Video games want you to play them all year, every day. Social media platforms reach out to you and nudge you incessantly if you let them. (Change your notification settings to stop the nagging!)
If Facebook were a person you'd have ghosted them long ago for being way too clingy and giving you no space. Now we carry around this virtual assistant we call a phone and it taps us up over and over again and many of us happily allow it because the gratification we get from a like is inexplicably addictive.
Kids are less disciplined than us adults. The new legislation may be regarded as too little too late but it is this writer’s opinion that is essential for the future state of this generation’s mental health.
According to research by Common Sense an advocacy group for reducing online time 98% of kids under the age of 8 have access to a mobile phone. Other studies show us that 66% of people are addicted to their device and get anxious without it. The notion of unplugging is filling today’s adults with dread. I can only imagine the impact on the next generation if we allow the furtherance of the captive technology to run wild throughout our digital playgrounds. Parents can check out these helpful resources to combat captive technology and keep the child catcher at bay.
ASK ABOUT GAMES
Friendships were no doubt destroyed yesterday as twitter erupted in tweets for and against the use of SATs in primary schools following Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement of Labours pledge to abolish Primary School formal tests if they were elected.
In front of National Education Union in Liverpool Corbyn delivered the news to loud cheering and whooping. He explained that it would free up schools struggling with funding cuts and full classrooms He also said it would improve teacher recruitment and retention.
Schools are currently ordered by their success on the SATs and this ranking system would be abolished also.
"We need to prepare children for life, not just exams," Said Corbyn
Corbyn claimed they would abolish SATs for 7 and 11 years olds, moving away from standardised testing in place of "the clear principle of understanding the learning needs of every child." The news was received excitedly by the room full of teachers who gave Corbyn a standing ovation.
The National Education Union Joint Secretary supported Corbyn and said he recognised the damage a test-driven system does to children and schools.
Head Teachers also responded positively to the announcement. The Leader of the National HT Association said "everyday teacher assessment and classroom tests" can be used to monitor children's progress.
Obviously as system that holds a school accountable to the results from SATS might be frowned upon by Head Teachers. One head teacher on Twitter referred to SATs as being expected to perform whilst having a gun to your head. Schools Minister Gibbs said he believed abolishing SATS would be a huge step backwards in maths and literacy for UK Kids and would "Undo decades of improvement in children's reading and maths".
"Labour plan to keep parents in the dark.
"They will prevent parents from knowing how good their child's school is at teaching maths, reading and writing," said Mr Gibb.
Here are some of twitters mixed reactions. The general consensus being that SATs do put undue pressure on children at primary age however without them it seems grades and standards slip so some went as far as to propose that the SATs stay but the way in which the data is utilised is the real problem. The ranking tables and the implications to a child’s individual learning journey were all questioned.
The fact that some children are experiencing unnecessary stress as a result of the testing might not be a direct consequence of the testing itself but the manner in which some teachers and schools deliver the SATs internally said one teacher.
Whatever your take on this is certainly has polarised teachers, heads and parents and is obviously a contentious subject. It is this writers opinion that a one size fits all system is unlikely to be best for everyone and a more holistic approach would surely offer an advantage to schools with the resources and training to deliver a more wholesome solution however many teachers are over worked already and adding the pressure of concocting their own individual monitoring methods might be detrimental to the teachers workload and therefore overall quality of their delivery.
We don't have the answers here but it will be interesting to see whether proposed changes pre-election and actual changes are the same if Labour do take power.
There were several useful suggestions from teachers and one which seemed to float to the top was the idea of reducing time restrictions and making the whole experience less stressful as a whole. Surely whether of not primary SATs are abolished these considerations should be addressed.
One in ten children are thought to have mental health problems. There are now 5.7 million children diagnosed with ADHD and the use of pyscho-stimulants such as Ritalin is up by 700%
70% of children with Mental Health problems get no interventions at an appropriate age.
New legislation is being called for in a new charter by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood who want to government to legislate a 2019 Mental Health Bill based on 6 key principles.
- Focus on the needs of children
- Protect children by registering all individuals who work therapeutically with them through an independent government-approved agency such as the Professional Authority’s Accredited Register programme or the Health and Care Professions Council
- Invest in a properly qualified workforce, with Level 7 postgraduate training essential and all professionals who work with children, including teachers, to be trained in mental health awareness, regardless of their own financial resources
- Ensure that policy is informed by the best available and appropriate evidence and is properly funded
- Focus on the needs of parents and carers
- Make policies succeed via ‘joined up working’ between all agencies concerned with child welfare
"The UK Government must deliver on its commitment to ensure that new mental health legislation protects all children who live with mental illness. The effects of our childhoods may indeed 'last a lifetime' but time is precious for children in the here and now." - Helen Clark, Lead Author of the APPG's numerous child health and well-being reports.
The charter is available to read and sign here. and is designed to urge the government to introduce a new Mental Health Bill focusing on children in 2019.
Mental Health & Standing Desks.
The benefits of freedom of movement and exercise generally are universally acknowledged. Our standing desks for kids perpetuate movement and encourage good mental health. The student standing desk encourages participation and it's clear that engaged students are happier students. If you want to trial standing desks in your school you can request a trial here.
For further reading on Mental Health visit the Mental Health Foundation here. They have helpful publications such as talking to your children about healthy internet use.
You may also wish to read:
JAMA Paediatrics has published a study which explains that half the population of USA children have a mental health disorder and only half of those get treatment.
In 2016 a US wide survey was given to parents of children and teens of 46.6 million children aged 6 to 18, 7.7 million had at least one mental condition such as depression, anxiety or ADHD and only half of these were receiving treatment within the last 12 months.
Interestingly the numbers from state to state across the broad US varied wildly suggesting external factors have an influence over mental health in young people. The children of Hawaii for example only 7.6% had one of the conditions compared to Maine where over a quarter of the kids had one or more.
The Author of the study Mark Peterson professor at University of Michigan Medicine said the high numbers of mental illness and how many go untreated was unexpected.
The low treatment numbers are attributed to a lack of mental health services, poor insurance coverage and a stigma attached to mental health conditions meaning that parents were averse to putting their children into support services.
"Untreated mental illness in children pose grave consequences to our communities, including high rates of suicide, academic decline and unemployment" - Dr. Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio
Our Take on This…
Physical literacy is a malnourished area of our children’s care. More needs to be done to ensure that our children are in the best possible state with their mental health as we wrote earlier in the week, getting exercise and vitamin D is a hugely important aspect to that.
The UK is just starting to raise how we tackle mental health in children. 9 local authorities in the UK have this week each received a share of £650,000 to pilot a program designed to improve the way children and young people’s mental health needs are met as they enter care.
Cllr Janet Sanderson, Executive Member for the Children and Young People’s Service, said: "We listened to young people when they asked us to help support their mental health needs. Being part of this project is a great opportunity to ensure each child gets help that is right for them, at the right time. As we roll out this pilot, we will continue to listen to young people every step of the way.”
This week UK doctors have also urged parents to reduce the amount of screen time we allow our children as this is directly linked to the growth of adverse mental health conditions noted in the survey.
More screens mean less movement. Our children lifespans are 5 years shorter than our own because we have allowed a landscape of inactivity to develop and this needs to be countered at the earliest ages. It has been proven that active children become active adults and physical activity leads to better educational results and children with less mental and physical health disorders. We work with schools to implement flexible seating plans integrating standing desks into schools and the feedback we receive reinforces our belief that standing desks in schools are an essential part of an overall solution.
If your school wishes to trial standing desks then you can request a trial here.