Page 7 - Independent Schools Magazine
P. 7

Pressures & peer mentoring
Dr John Hind, head of Dame Allan’s Schools, Tyne & Wear, re ects on how his schools face up to the pressures on young people... and his Assistant Head of Sixth Form reports on the schools’ innovative peer mentoring programme.
A whole-school focus on the quality of keeping going when things are dif cult.
Children’s Mental Health Week prompted us all to consider the mental health of our young people, writes Dr John Hind. The statistics are challenging. Over and above speci cally identi ed conditions and behaviours, the proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, with one in  fteen boys and one
in  ve girls reporting such feelings according to a Nuf eld Society report in 2012; the Royal College of Psychiatry reports that almost 300,000 young people in Britain have an anxiety disorder.
Various explanations for this growth have been suggested. I personally  nd the tendency of some social media platforms to focus on peer approval, by encouraging young people to measure their worth by the number of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’
they have accumulated, particularly pernicious at a time when
such approval is of paramount importance to them. It is also true that our education system, with
its repeated public examinations
at 16+, 17+ and 18+, has done little to ease pressure on our young people; it is to be hoped that the demise of AS Level examinations may reduce some of it.
However, the issue for us as Schools is not so much why these pressures exist as how we deal with them. In that regard, last year’s whole school target of developing resilience – that quality of keeping going when things are dif cult - was vital. Allowing our pupils to accept that failure is as much a part of life as success and that what really matters is that we deal with such failure and move on, is an important part of our educational mission; what matters is not so much what one achieves as how hard one works to achieve it. In that respect, the recently introduced endeavour awards are an important
part of our building, recognising and celebrating the resilience of
our young people. Offering a wide range of activities in school is also essential. It not only allows every- one the chance to develop their talents and succeed in some area
of school life but also provides an opportunity to escape pressures and anxieties that may exist elsewhere.
And when resilience is put to the test, it is our duty as Schools to provide support systems. The school counselling service at Dame Allan’s is long established and existed
well before the current (and very appropriate) debate about child mental health took hold. Our counsellor provides excellent support for vulnerable young people as has our school nurse – both playing
vital roles at a time when cash strapped NHS services for mental health struggle to meet the growing demand from young people. Equally well established is the Schools’ listening skills course, which provides Sixth Form pupils with appropriate
skills to interact with, mentor and guide younger pupils in the Schools. We model good and supportive behaviour at all levels in the Schools. Encouraging kindness and good manners helps us to create the civilised community spirit which pupils highlighted as the strongest feature of the Schools in their recent survey.
Our ultimate antidote to anxiety
and depression lies in the love of
a God whose grace forgives us any failures or weaknesses and whose love allows us to combat any anxiety or depression. By bringing a spiritual focus to our mission alongside the intellectual and physical well-being our Schools develop, we offer all our pupils – of whatever faith or none
– the opportunity to look beyond a potentially anxiety making world of targets and achievement and focus instead on the greater things of life beyond the material trappings of success and, in so doing, bring a perspective that may help further to allay anxieties and depression.
The unexpected bene ts of peer mentoring
Mrs J Downie, Assistant Head of Sixth Form, Dame Allan’s Schools, reports....
Promoting good mental health in young people is at
the forefront of educators’ minds: recent statistics suggest that 1 in
4 people will suffer from a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, whilst 75% of mental health problems emerge by the age of 18. Theresa May has unveiled plans to transform attitudes to mental health, providing additional training for secondary school teachers, but what if the students could be trained to support their peers?
Peer mentoring has long been recognised as a valuable tool for supporting younger students with dif culties such as bullying and low self-esteem, and the bene ts for both the mentor and mentee, as well as for the wider school community are palpable.
At Dame Allan’s Schools we have provided a listening skills course
to volunteer Year 12 students as
an integral part of our Sixth Form extra-curricular programme for
over 15 years. The 20 week course, focuses on active listening skills and self-awareness. The participants hone a range of essential verbal and non-verbal communication skills including re ection, paraphrasing and questioning techniques. In addition, they are also made aware of differing counselling approaches such as CBT. The sessions are inspired by entry level counselling courses and many of the teaching resources used are sourced from
the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation toolkit.
Each week has a practical feel: sessions include tuition on stress management, relaxation techniques, goal setting and the prioritisation of tasks. In learning how to be mentors, the ‘trainees’ carry out regular skills practice in triads with a ‘listener’, ‘speaker’ and ‘observer’. More often than not, the scenarios the students create are usually topics pertinent to the sixth formers themselves: exams and future plans!
A key feature of the latter part of the course is the promotion of good mental health and awareness of the symptoms of stress and depression. The students read articles on dealing with anxiety and get
advice on breathing and relaxation techniques. They are also asked to study the informative poster created by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust entitled ‘Depression: The Warning Signs’.
Safeguarding is paramount to the integrity of the scheme and a strong emphasis is placed on establishing boundaries, the limitations of con dentiality and successful ‘signposting’ throughout the course. All mentors are given a safeguarding talk by one of the school’s Designated Safeguarding Leaders (DSLs) and the mentors are given clear guidelines to work within.
On the successful completion of the course, which includes a short skills assessment, the students
are enrolled as peer mentors.
The mentors work closely with the pastoral leadership team and
mentees are matched to them throughout the school year. The mentors help to support students with issues including subject speci c issues, poor organisation and low self-con dence. They may also be used to help pastoral staff support students through dif cult times.
The peer mentors gain much from the scheme. As individuals, the mentors can develop skills as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award or vital experience for medical school interviews; they meet new friends, tangibly grow in con dence and of course increase their interpersonal skills. It is the impact on the Sixth Form community as a whole, however, that is perhaps the most striking and ultimately the most unexpected of consequences of the listening skills course. By completing the course, the students have a better understanding of themselves and they can read the people around them more effectively. Approximately 1 in every 5 of our Sixth Formers have completed the listening skills course.
Pupil Wellbeing ~ special report
Independent Schools Magazine 7

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