Whole-school emotional health and wellbeing

Written by: Janice Cahill | Published:

What does an emotionally literate school look like? Janice Cahill, who works in an Ofsted-outstanding pupil referral unit, offers her insights

The Pendlebury Centre is a pupil referral unit in Stockport, catering for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. As the only PRU in the country to be rated as “outstanding” in every one of its four Ofsted inspections, Pendlebury takes a national lead on emotional health and wellbeing.

As a National Leader of Education, I work with other authorities supporting alternative provisions and PRUs, examining what they have in place and how we can improve educational offerings for very vulnerable young people.

Unfortunately, PRUs don’t get much great press, even though proportionally there are just as many outstanding PRUs in the country as there are mainstream primary and secondary schools.

What we offer at Pendlebury is a therapeutic provision, with a very clear balance between academic and emotional literacy. If young people’s needs are understood and met, then schools can work with them and teach them more effectively.
Research suggests that behaviour and attendance improve dramatically in emotionally literate schools because there is an ethos of support and cooperation that runs throughout the entire school.

A real bugbear for me is that schools are encouraged to be more focused on academic achievement, but this attainment comes from an emotional response. If a child is feeling healthy, safe and secure, then their academic performance improves quite dramatically.

There are a lot of children with mental health issues or children whose needs are not being met in school, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have a learning disability.

A lot of the children in our PRU are quite able, but they have substantial gaps in their education and this has become a barrier to their learning in school.

We have quite a lot of young people with autism, with eating disorders, others that self-harm, some have serious anxiety and depression – those young people have to cope with personal circumstances and it becomes all-consuming, preventing them from going back into school.

Mental health and wellbeing isn’t just the responsibility of the school nurse or the pastoral head, it is everyone’s responsibility and needs to be embedded in the culture of the whole school.

The foundation for good practice begins with examining what an emotionally proficient school looks like; asking what competencies we are trying to develop, and how this gives a solid start to developing an emotionally literate school.
One of the things we do at Pendlebury is conduct an in-depth assessment profile for each young person, covering both their academic and their emotional issues.

We developed an emotional tracking tool to support these assessments, which has received national recognition from the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, Excellence in Assessments (Schools), a great validation for us.

The tool is currently being implemented in all of our secondary schools and being piloted in a primary school, to help us build a better understanding of a child’s emotional wellbeing.

We do a lot of CPD around emotional wellbeing. Every school should have an emotional wellbeing lead, so to support this we have developed an accredited mental health programme that addresses how to deal with depression, suicidal thoughts and other related issues.

The programme is called The Pendlebury Centre Approach to Mental Health in Schools. It doesn’t make people experts, but it helps them to understand. We are trying to empower schools.

There is still an awful lot of stigma around mental health in our country. People are very quick to pass derogatory comments, and children can be very quickly labelled, when all they want is to be normal.

We try to focus on building up their self-esteem, self-confidence, their self-worth, self-acceptance – getting them to love themselves again. We can’t turn back the clocks, but as soon as they walk through our doors, we can start to help them get to where they want to be.

  • Janice Cahill is the headteacher of the Pendlebury Centre PRU in Stockport.

Promoting Emotional Health

Janice Cahill’s session, Promoting Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Education Settings, takes place at 15:00 on Friday, April 29, at Nasen Live 2016. For more information on Nasen Live, which takes place in Leeds on April 29 and 30, and to pre-book seminar places, visit www.nasen.org.uk/nasen-live/


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