Time for TEA – support students' mental health

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Earlier this year, Newall Green High School in Manchester was recognised in the national Resilience and Results awards because of its work in supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of students and the school community. Kevin Buchanan explain

Building resilience in our young people is seen as a cornerstone of our approach to supporting students’ holistic development. In teaching and using the skills of resilience we aim to increase the life chances and aspiration of the students within our school and community.

Traditionally the school has always had a strong pastoral leaning to resilience work and over the years has participated in the UK Resilience and the Secondary SEAL (social and emotional aspects of learning) programmes, often delivering these in radical formats through both curriculum and pastoral means.

The executive head of the school federation, Neil Wilson, identified that resiliency and communication were key to school and student development. Yet this had to be sharper in its focus and more universally understood and practised in school and at home. 

The school was already a lead school in developing an education and health multi-agency approach, with its own emotional health advisor, speech and language therapist, school social worker, family support workers, school police officer, and family residential project. 

Using these relationships, new partnerships with health, speech and language, education and CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) were formed. Lead staff were put in place to develop a more focused resiliency programme which could work with these different audiences.

Identifying barriers

Initially working with other interested schools across the city, and with federated primary schools as well as key families, a period of research and reflection took place on existing messages and provision. This research highlighted many barriers to the effectiveness of teaching lasting resilience: 

  • The key messages of resiliency and positive thinking were often forgotten by students if the skills were not refreshed and practised on a regular basis.

  • Many health agencies using different language to communicate the same health message left many young people, families and professionals confused as to what the key skills and principles were. 

  • Much resiliency work took place as a targeted repair measure rather than as a universal input to build skills and awareness.

  • Key messages of resiliency were often delivered too late in a child’s experience and the primary schools felt that younger minds may be open to the language and ethos of positive-thinking.

  • The power of the home environment often built tough fixed resiliency thinking rather than an aspirational problem-solving resiliency as used by the school setting.

  • Staff change within schools meant that the skill-base of experience for teaching and role-modelling resiliency was often lost or seen as a specialist input, rather than a universal teacher quality.

  • Other people’s responses in home or school to the young people’s resilient thinking had the impact of undermining their learning and decreasing the effectiveness of the skill.

  • It was identified that resilience principles needed to be more explicitly linked to student learning if they were to be given the time and resource to be universally adopted by staff, students and families.

Time for TEA

In response to the research, a project plan involving a multi-agency approach was designed to create a resiliency model to suit both health and education audiences. This model was created to be applied with differentiation through primary school, secondary and into further education and adulthood. As such, a model was devised based upon the held principles of cognition, which could be used as a vehicle of understanding in school, at home and within targeted settings.

The Time for TEA (copyrighted) resiliency curriculum was designed with the hope of overcoming the barriers mentioned above. The simple principle of TEA was that we all have Thoughts, Emotions and Actions and these are each interlinked and shaped by each other.

Using the analogy of TEA allowed us to develop the key skills of resilient thinking in a non-threatening manner using concepts and skills already familiar to a child, young person or adult. The other advantage of the model was that the strapline of “Time for TEA” implied it could be a skill that is useful in both immediate and long-term decision-making.

The concept of taking time to think over a cup of tea, of having a cup of tea to calm down or having a cup of tea as a social encounter could all be applied to the thinking time we all need to respond positively to life situations.

Resilency is key

The success of the curriculum, which is still being evolved, was that the key resiliency message and skill could be easily understood in a relatively short period of time. This skill is now taught universally by all staff using a spiral curriculum through years 7 to 11, allowing it to become embedded and honed according to each individual student. 

The schools’ own behaviour management systems and pastoral support reflect the principles of Time for TEA so the skill is taught, role-modelled and practised in a seamless link between life and learning. The principles have been developed to allow primary school children in a peer-to-peer setting to develop the pre-application language of resilience and positive-thinking so that their learning is age-appropriate to their development. This forms a strong foundation for future learning and in particular supports transition to high school. 

Time for TEA has also become a very useful model of engagement for whole-staff training within the schools with regard to self and professional development, as well as classroom communication and management. 

The curriculum has also been adapted into a parenting support programme aiming to improve adult mental health and resiliency as well as allowing for age-appropriate understanding of the young person’s development.

Taking action

The Time for TEA resiliency programme is in its first stages of delivery, but indications already show that the simple message and associated skills are becoming second nature and part of the language of reasoning and learning within the school. Following the barriers identified above we have ensured:

  • A spiral curriculum so key learning is built upon not forgotten.

  • Joined up working with local health provision, CAMHS and adult mental health using the same language and models of cognition.

  • Delivery by all staff to all students.

  • Development and delivery of a primary age programme 

  • Links to family work within the school and pilot delivery of family and adult sessions.

  • Simple messages and rationale allowing for full staff training and delivery.

  • All students are on the same page of awareness and understanding and base-line measures are used to identify follow-up and targeted support.

  • Core to the wider school PSHE curriculum and student academic review and progress measures.

Next steps

The next steps involve the measuring of progress using a mix of assessments including attitude, attendance, attainment and aspiration. Alongside this is the development of a resilience programme as one of a range of universal and targeted curriculum and pastoral interventions. 

These interventions are designed as bursts of information, alongside practical learning and life-skills, to empower the students to be both positive and proactive. 

These units include communication skills, self-esteem and efficacy, values and attitudes, and aspiration and achievement. These are currently being drawn into new PSHE, citizenship and careers frameworks within the school.

The desire to support young people to be self-ready, school-ready, work-ready, life-ready and future-ready underpins these learning units. The teaching and practice of resiliency is the foundation for all these skills for life and learning to be developed.

The Time for TEA programme’s value is that it does not stand alone as a resiliency skill, but that it opens the door to possibilities and gives students the confidence to make the best choices.

Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition top tips for schools

  • Integrate mental health and emotional wellbeing into the curriculum.

  • Use curriculum plans to allow students to focus on their own emotional wellbeing.

  • Co-ordinate your pastoral care system so that learning mentors, school nurses, teaching assistants, school-based counsellors, and other key staff adopt a consistent approach to emotional wellbeing. 

  • Provide consistent training to the whole staff team on children and young people’s mental health.

  • Ensure that any commissioned counselling or mental health services are fully integrated into the fabric of the school.

  • Anchor services in the school which offer a range of interventions based on need.

  • Build an ethos within the school which firmly supports the emotional wellbeing of all pupils and staff through self-evaluation forms, Ofsted reports, school leadership from governors and back to the leadership team. 

  • Ensure there is a collaboration between anti-bullying and healthy schools material.

  • Engage with parents as much as possible – they are critical to supporting the school approach at home.

  • Collect as much evidence as possible that links the improved emotional or psychological wellbeing of your pupils with improved academic progress.

  • Kevin Buchanan is director of children and families inclusion services at Newall Green High School in Manchester.  For more information on the Time for TEA resource or to be part of its continued development, you can contact Kevin via www.newallgreenhigh.manchester.sch.uk

Resilience and Results 
The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition launched the Resilience and Results awards earlier this year to highlight and celebrate the work schools in England are doing to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of their students, staff and parents. It is hoped that the results will act as a benchmark for excellence across the education sector. For more information on this year’s winning schools, visit www.cypmhc.org.uk/schools_competition_2013

CAPTION: Supported: Newall Green students design a game around resilience as part of the Time for TEA programme


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