Such a position could help secondary schools to combat poor physical and mental health and wellbeing in both children and teachers, it is claimed.
The suggestion has come from think-tank 2020health and not-for-profit healthcare organisation Nuffield Health, after they jointly published research raising concerns that pupils’ health and wellbeing needs are going unmet.
Nuffield Health is now to lead a pilot project looking at how this position might work in practice. The pilot will include the development of a wellbeing strategy focusing on children, teachers and parents. A competition is to be held to find a school to work with and the pilot will aim to begin in September.
Figures compiled by the research show that 75 per cent of young people living with mental illness go undiagnosed. The report, – Head of Wellbeing: An essential post for state secondary schools? – states: “In many schools there will be a very significant number of pupils developing mental health illness unrecognised by staff or supporting services.”
The report also highlights that:
Almost 24 per cent of 11 to 15-year-old boys and 16.5 per cent of girls of the same age were recorded as obese in 2011.
One in five girls in year 11 report anxiety or depression.
Only 14 per cent of boys and eight per cent of girls aged 13 to 15 are meeting the recommended physical activity levels (a minimum of an hour a day).
Half of all diagnosable mental health conditions start before the age of 14 and 75 per cent by the age of 21.
It argues that a head of wellbeing could “raise awareness among parents around good parenting skills and the importance of regulated screen-time, increased physical activity and a balanced diet”.
Furthermore, the report says that 73 per cent of teaching staff feel their job has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, meaning a head of wellbeing position could also prove beneficial for staff.
Tom Caston is the head of staff formation and wellbeing at Ardingly College, an independent school in West Sussex, and has previously written about his work in SecEd.
Commenting on the report, Mr Caston said: “The figures surrounding young people and mental health are there for all to see and there are also some startling figures out there showing the number of teachers leaving the profession within their first five years.
“It is clear that this is an area that needs urgent attention – and not just in our schools. Our young people are crying out for help to manage their pressures, while our teachers are finding a sustainable work/life balance almost impossible to achieve.”
David Mobbs, chief executive of Nuffield Health, called on secondary schools to consider the merits of a head of wellbeing position: “The head of wellbeing role will provide much needed support to headteachers to engage with pupils and staff, not just about physical wellbeing but also emotional wellbeing.”
Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020health, added: “The pressures facing secondary-school pupils today are possibly at their greatest ever. Surrounded by consumerism, bombarded by social media, distracted by screen-time, destabilised by family breakdown, stressed by academic targets, deceived by digitally altered celebrity images, and exposed to damaging messages of online pornography, it is no wonder that many children find making the most of their education a tall order.
“The 2020health report highlights the potential positive outcomes that can be gained in employing a head of wellbeing. In theory it can help to address the underlying issues that affect staff and pupils’ wellbeing on a daily basis.”