Supporting students' mental health – a case study

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Arthur Mellows Village College believes strongly in supporting student mental health. SENCO Sara Parnell discusses their variety of approaches.

Arthur Mellows is an outstanding secondary school in Peterborough with 1,600 students. Everything undertaken to support our students emotionally is not an add-on, it is embedded in our culture. 

The college prides itself on making students feel valued, providing consistency in the professionals with whom students engage, effective class intervention, strategic success criteria, and ultimately returning the student’s focus back to the classroom. 

While there have been many changes to the identification and funding of vulnerable groups, last year’s statistics showed that nearly 20 per cent of our students had an additional need, of which 9.4 per cent had a statement of SEN.

This makes the level of vulnerability within the school higher than the national average. However, with our reported deprivation indicator of just 0.12 per cent, the school does not receive adequate financial support to meet the identified need.

Both teaching and support staff are integral to the success of our students’ mental health and wellbeing. They ensure a positive whole-school approach and targeted support offered at an appropriate level. Intensive tracking and monitoring, regularly reviewed, ensures a joined-up conversation throughout the whole school.

As the school has a large group of students with complex difficulties, including many without a statement of special needs, we appointed a specialist teacher whose role includes time identifying and supporting students who may display anxiety with any issues, stresses and pressure points in the curriculum. 

A key aspect of her work is to help students articulate how they are feeling. One method used is a comic-strip conversation technique identifying visually areas to follow through with further support.

A full-time counsellor, funded by the school, is available on-site and sees a variety of children who are struggling emotionally. Accessible drop-in sessions are available to all, as well as smaller more focused support groups.

We have a large non-teaching pastoral team who facilitate integrated working between teachers and parents. One of their primary functions is to ensure teachers are aware in advance of students facing crisis situations before they arrive at their classroom door. This enables effective pastoral intervention and support to ensure learning can take place throughout the day. Additionally we access external services such as the autism outreach teacher or adolescent intervention services from the local authority. This provides wrap-around care for the child, both in and out of school. 

Programmes

Recognising that secondary school can be a bewildering place for many students, Arthur Mellows has a variety of systems to ensure students have seamless transition points at all stages of their secondary life. This enables them to avoid a dip in performance and lessens certain students’ vulnerability to exclusion at these stressful times. 

Consistency of the timetabling of learning support assistants is vital to students’ wellbeing and achievement, as through this the whole child can be supported both academically and emotionally.

The college offers a transition programme for students moving from primary school into year 7. Vulnerable students, including those with a statement of SEN, anxiety or additional support needs are identified.

The programme is tailored towards the individual child and includes both teacher-led lessons and work with other SEN students.

Our pastoral manager and head of year 7 visit all feeder primary schools to gain a comprehensive picture of our intake, which covers a wide area.

Our mentoring system identifies students that are underachieving, tracks attendance or lateness and will begin a discussion with parents as intervention is required. Overarching academic mentoring takes place within each year group and in a more targeted way by both pastoral and SEN teams. 

For year 10 and 11 students who have been identified as being more vulnerable to exclusion, we run an inclusion group with two dedicated higher level learning support assistants. These support students with coursework, college applications and NVQ courses as well as mentoring and supporting with other social and emotional needs. 

Provisions for students

Ensuring students have “safe” places to go outside normal lesson time is of great importance. This reduces stress and anxiety.

There are indoor spaces for identified students who are typically shy or have friendship difficulties and these are used extensively in the morning, at break and at lunch-time.

A variety of organised stimulus activities are available at all times. A significant strength of the provision is the peer support by an older student who is available to offer ideas and advice alongside an adult if required. It is amazing to see year 11s socialising with year 7s, discussing experiences and ideas.

A staffed after-school homework club is open in the library for all students to access supportive facilities. This is especially helpful for those who do not have ICT access at home. For students with anger management issues, there are specifically designed “time out” areas to use when necessary. These then trigger support interventions at the level needed.

External services

One of our greatest concerns is the lack of co-ordinated, joined-up support for students in and out of college, especially at the initial and often crucial point there are mental health concerns. However, additional to the menu on offer within the school, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) has the capacity to support a small number of identified students. An Adolescent Intervention Service, part of the local authority, also adds to our mentoring capacity.  

Funding

The new devolved funding mechanism will have a large adverse effect on our ability to offer appropriate support and without careful consideration, could lead to a degrading of our overall provision.

The school does not benefit from large amounts of grant funding triggered by free school meal indicators and the funding per capita is low. Students classified as Pupil Premium are monitored extensively with a menu that includes extra tuition in mathematics and English and identified professionals focus on the key elements that will result in success. 

Time is spent discussing on a one to one basis what the key barriers are and how they are removed. It could be as simple as a pencil case with some equipment or a quiet place to do homework in – the spectrum is very broad and a real strength of the school.

Results

The academic results speak for themselves with both key stage 2 to 3 and 2 to 4 attainment significantly above the national average and 76 per cent achieving five or more A* to C grades including English and mathematics in 2012.

The value-added progression that students with a statement of SEN made from key stage 2 to 4 is 1,070. This is much higher than the overall value-added for the school which is 1,023.

The college has incredibly high expectations and drive for all our students and the stated aim is to ensure that they can achieve their maximum potential by being provided with the skills to be successful in the rest of their lives.

  • Sara Parnell is the SENCO at Arthur Mellows Village College in Peterborough.

Further information
This case study has been provided with support from the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, which is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation and brings together charities to campaign for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Visit www.cypmhc.org.uk
 
Caption: Time-out: Arthur Mellows Village College has indoor spaces and time-out areas for use throughout the day to help support students who may be struggling


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