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Pupil Wellbeing ~ special report
‘Right now there is certainly a job to do with the health and wellbeing of the young people in our care’
Dr Bernard Trafford, Headmaster of the Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School, a former Chairman of HMC, currently chairs the HMC Wellbeing Working Group. Here he re ects on some of the essential issues and the work being done in schools.....
Reading the papers last month (February), you might have thought schools were too busy (in the state sector) complaining about funding and (in the independent) moaning about Michael Gove to do anything about three crises I saw listed on a single page: eating disorders (because schools push kids too hard to eat healthily); loneliness and isolation (because we’re too timorous to hug a child who needs comfort); and peddling such “neuro-myths” as brain gym and learning styles (because Schools Minister Nick Gibb says they’re rubbish).
Fortunately we needn’t take
much notice of such shock-horror headlines. But right now there
is certainly a job to do with the health and wellbeing of the young people in our care.
This year I’m chairing HMC’s Wellbeing Working Group. This informal meeting of heads of HMC ranging from the south coast to Scotland was tasked with setting the agenda for HMC’s work in this area and, indeed, getting some signi cant actions underway.
As long ago as October 2015,
it was the Working Group that gathered survey information about the particular anxieties and worries our young people face: that information was presented in Saint Andrews at HMC’s Annual Meeting.
In April 2016 the agenda of HMC’s Spring Conference in London centred around matters
6 Independent Schools Magazine
of well-being: Natasha Devon was outspoken about the mental health issues facing young people, by implication critical of government, and was sacked the next day as the school’s Mental Health Czar. I guess you call that having an impact!
Our work continues...
As I write this, HMC is working with Digital Awareness UK to produce guidance on the use of technology for parents, children and schools alike. A video will contrast unwise ways of living with technology with healthy and well-balanced ones. It will not shy away from the shortcomings of parents whose own digital habits are so out of control that the example they set to their children is poor: for example, the dad too busy with emails even to stop
at mealtimes. Rather obvious? Rather too prevalent, perhaps! Too sensible an organisation to become preachy or predictable, Digital Awareness UK will produce punchy material of great value.
The example of the parenting aspect of living safely with technology re ects a cry that many heads nowadays report from parents for advice on
how to deal with the pressures (one may be brave enough to call some of them addictions!) that their children, particularly teenagers, live with. In such a rapidly changing world of 24/7 communication, trends, fashions and pressures among young people, many parents feel they simply cannot keep up, and need advice and help.
As a result, more and more schools nowadays run twilight or evening sessions for parents, not merely to explain what angle the school may take on a particular aspect of life and wellbeing, but also to help mums and dads to develop and and even share their approaches.
Where does the parent learn how to deal with stroppy 15 year-olds who insist that all their friends’ parents allow them to stay out much later in the evening than they want to permit? How do you, as a parent, manage and supervise that 14 year-old’s birthday
party? How do you  nd your way through the maze, when all you hear from your child is that you’re being unreasonable and unfair and that no good parent would dream of behaving in that way?
It’s easy to make light of this (I hope I haven’t): but the reality of such family con ict is tough for parents.
In response to this, HMC’s Wellbeing Working Group is currently carrying out small-scale research across ten schools, asking parents to identify the particular issues that cause them most concern and (more signi cantly) on which they would like help and advice. We may reckon we can already guess what those main themes are likely to be: but it’s time we asked and involved parents and, as I write this, the responses are rolling in.
What will we do with the information? One parent will be invited from each school to help
sift through this information and devise methods and approaches for providing the information that parents are seeking. We don’t believe schools have constantly
to keep reinventing the wheel. The problems are shared across all schools, and we don’t need
to  nd a unique answer to every one. On the contrary, we hope to assemble some of the best ideas available and work out how we can develop appropriate materials to share.
We have certainly taken the
right approach by partnering with Digital Awareness UK on the technological issues, and will be open-minded about  nding partners with whom we can work to develop materials on the other themes that emerge.
Oh, and don’t think this is a sel sh operation! We will be sharing everything we produce widely beyond HMC – indeed, with anyone who wants or needs to use it.
There is plenty to worry parents and schools out there right
now. But it’s no use ignoring it, panicking or curling up into a ball! By working together,  nding solutions and identifying sources of advice and support, we can usefully engage with some of the major issues facing children and young people, and worrying their parents and schools.
We are not complacent: there is so much more still to do. But we are satis ed that we are helping HMC and its member schools to move in the right direction.
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