Chester-based independent school Abbey Gate College has successfully trained 84% of its staff (teaching and support staff) in the internationally accredited adult two-day Mental Health First Aid course (by MHFA England), and half day ‘Mental Health Aware’ course. The MHFA England training raises employee awareness of mental ill health conditions and teaches practical skills to spot triggers and symptoms. Those trained have a better understanding of where to find information and professional support and have more confidence in helping individuals (pupils and staff) experiencing mental ill-health, in addition to promoting every opportunity for positive mental wellbeing.
As part of a whole school, holistic wellbeing strategy, the College are committed to actively promoting good mental, emotional and physical wellbeing ultimately to empower all pupils and staff to thrive and to be the best version of themselves. The staff also have expertise in identifying mental health issues amongst its pupils and staff to provide early intervention.
In addition to the MHFA England training, staff at the College through a Whole School Staff Wellbeing Day and Teacher Twilights have been offered health checks, wellbeing and lifestyle workshops, reflexology sessions, mindfulness workshops, Pilates and Clubbercise classes to reinforce the holistic health opportunities available to them and for staff to learn more about complementary therapies to support physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing. Evidence shows that complementary therapies and exercise help stress recovery, rest and reflection all of which can strengthen resilience.
The College which has approximately 500 pupils and 100 staff are working on embedding a culture with an ethos where positive mental health is regarded as the responsibility of all. Sixth Form pupils and parents at the College have been given the opportunity to attend the MHFA England ‘Mental Health Aware’ course with positive feedback. The joined up approach is aimed to pass on knowledge and support to pupils at the College.
The co-educational school, which celebrated 40 years in 2018, plans to have an annual ‘Wellbeing Day’ (for both pupils and staff) with the normal timetable being replaced with a day filled with positive talks and activities themed around wellbeing and positive mental health. These activities focus on students building self-awareness and empowering them to recognise when it is typical for their feelings and emotions to change and encourage them to feel confident in accessing support either in or outside of school.
The activities on the two Pupil Wellbeing Days already rolled out by the College varied from year group to year group, with the Infant and Junior classes taking part in singing sessions, basic yoga and first aid awareness, and the Senior School students looking at alcohol awareness, mental health first aid and time management.
Headmistress Mrs Tracy Pollard said: “We know from vital research that 75% of mental health issues start before the child turns 18 so it’s crucial that we give them all the skills we can to recognise how they’re feeling and how best to deal with it in a way that suits them; we know that what suits one child doesn’t necessarily work with another so we’re committed to complete transparency in school when it comes to discussing mental health challenges. Building self-awareness and resilience in our young people is vital to thrive in modern life.
“Pupil and Staff wellbeing is on our agenda for the long-term commitment to this campaign; as a school we know there has never been so much pressure on teachers to deliver and the strains many feel they are under. Productivity and consistency in staff is vital for pupils’ learning so it’s in everyone’s best interest that staff feel well either physically or mentally to do the best job that they can.
“Providing a supportive work environment is paramount in helping staff ultimately be the best version of themselves, this can only have a positive outcome for the pupils at the College.”