Enid Lewis is head teacher at Park Lane Primary School in north west London and was recently nominated for Place2Be’s well-being in school awards. Here, she shares her thoughts on mental health in schools and her experience of working with Place2Be.
I have always felt that mental health is not talked about enough in schools because there is often a stigma around the topic. Since becoming a head teacher, I have tried to challenge this because children and young people’s social and emotional well-being can have such a significant impact on their learning.
I’ve been head teacher at Park Lane Primary School in Wembley since 2012. We offer ‘wraparound care’ for our pupils, meaning the school day begins at 7.30am and ends at 6pm. Parents and children are encouraged to come in, eat a healthy breakfast and talk to teachers before and after school hours.
In 2015, we brought Place2Be into the school to help us provide additional support for families. It was difficult to convince some parents at first, which was understandable. Our teachers and staff also had concerns about bringing Place2Be into the school and the impact that taking pupils out of lessons could have on their learning.
Almost five years on, and the parents, staff and children are huge advocates for the service. We often have parents approaching us to ask if their children can see Place2Be because they’ve seen first-hand the benefits of having a space to talk. Our staff have found that allowing children the time to learn about managing their feelings and emotions makes for a much healthier learning environment and creates better attitudes towards learning itself.
Through Place2Be, I am also able to provide a safe space for teachers to talk about their concerns or any issues they may have spotted in the classroom. Teachers love the Place2Think service, and now we also provide attachment and trauma training alongside this, so staff are as prepared as they can be to support the pupils. What trauma training has shown is that if a teacher can understand what is causing children to be disruptive, it is not just that child and their family who benefit; all the children in the school benefit.
Place2Be is woven into the fabric of our school. We have 18 pupils who have regular one-to-one counselling with Place2Be, and many more make use of the self-referral service, Place2Talk. Place2Talk allows any pupil to have a fifteen-minute chat during break time or lunchtime to talk about anything that could be worrying them.
Having Place2Be in the school has given our pupils a level of self-awareness that means they can recognise when they are struggling, feeling worried or anxious, and need support. This is a priceless skill, and it will hopefully allow our pupils to look after themselves in the long term and take this self-awareness with them into adult life.
As head teachers, we have a lot of responsibility – for pupils, staff, budgets, Ofsted, exam results, etc. – and it can be difficult to know what to prioritise or what’s best to do for the school’s community. I am so lucky to have been able to make well-being and mental health a priority at Park Lane, and each day I see the benefits of this.
Visit place2be.org.uk/train to find out more about Place2Be’s expert training for schools, including the Mental Health Champions programmes.
Visit mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk to access high-quality mental health resources, information and advice for primary schools.
For more information about Place2Be's work, attend our upcoming School Leaders' Summit where Place2Be CEO Catherine Roche will be delivering a keynote speech.
First published 14 January 2020