Bett 2017 shines a spotlight on emotional well-being

Theresa May greeted the New Year with an announcement that her government will be focusing on mental health. Naturally, there is no more money but there are hopes that waiting times for referrals will be cut and that there will be more information for employers and schools on steps they can take to help those who suffer from depression and associated disorders.

Sadly, at present adolescent mental health services are stretched to breaking point and even where a GP recognises a severe need there may be a long interval before a troubled child is seen by experts.

However, technology can have a role to play especially if we turn things on their head and instead of talking about mental illness, we talk about mental health, self-awareness and wellbeing. This year at Bett there are some interesting digital resources and a couple of good practice seminars to help pastoral staff.

On the opening day of Bett (25 January, 2017 14:00 – 14:30), there is a School Leaders Summit: Assessment and student wellbeing: Avoiding a mental health melt-down in your school. The seminar includes a 15 minute presentation from Andrew Halls, Head of King’s College School Wimbledon followed by a conversation with Natasha Devon MBE who was appointed as Government Tsar on mental health issues in August 2015 only to find her role axed in May 2016 after she had spoken out against the pressures of assessment and testing.

There is also a seminar (Friday 27 January, 2017 10:30 – 11:00) called Using iPads to engage pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental health difficulties in a SEN school in the Live Learn SEN area. This features deputy head Robert Lynas and Ruth Smith, a master teacher for computing at Westmorland School in Lancashire which I visited for The Good Schools Guide in October.  It is part of Witherslack Group of schools and provides for children between the ages of 5 and 11 and employs two mental health practitioners.

If you are looking for school materials, head to GL Assessment (stand B149) and ask about Measures of Children’s Mental Health & Psychological Wellbeing that provides over fifty photocopiable resources to help educational and health professionals assess the psychological health and wellbeing of all children.  Lorraine Petersen OBE, Former CEO of nasen, recommends it: ‘It will give an indication of how a young person is coping with everyday life and how resilient they are to the challenges they are having to face, and this assessment will be a good starting place for schools to decide the strategies and interventions they need to put into place especially for children with SEND.’

In the Futures section have a look at MeeTwo (BFS13) from The Department for Education a digital solution to provide teenagers with a supportive and moderated community where they can share their concerns while remaining anonymous. The idea is to get young people to support each other but it also uses behind the scenes experts to make sure that users get the right information.

Behaviour is a big issue for schools. Trackit Lights is an app which works on an interactive whiteboard to build a profile of every pupil and every class. It produces graphs, trends and statistics so it reduces paperwork for teachers and helps headteachers monitor and evidence whole school behaviour. However, it also provides an ongoing record which will alert staff to pupils who are struggling to contain feelings and who are under stress. The company is starting to test it in school sites so it is worth going to stand G369 to see if it would meet your school’s needs.

I interviewed Zoe Ross recently. She is the creator of Mind Moose, a digital platform which aims ‘to teach 1 million children how to have a healthy mind’. Zoe is a former teacher. She was head of year in secondary, looking after children in years seven and eight and worked in a primary school with children at key stage two. ‘I was always interested in the pastoral side of children’s behaviour and two years ago I took a Masters in psychology which gave me more insight into how our minds work and how children recognise and express emotion,’

Using the platform, children go on a journey of discovery with Moose and his animal friends that represent different aspects of personality. For example, how do you silence the chatterbox chimp that sits on your shoulder and fills you with negative thoughts?

Mary Farmer is a teacher at The Cedars Primary School in Hounslow, a special school for children from four to eleven who have Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties: ‘Mind Moose offers pupils the opportunity to express their feelings in a very enjoyable, honest and safe way. Pupils love the badges and certificates and it definitely has the potential to help pupils and schools.’

The first unit of Mind Moose looks at self-esteem and self-knowledge: As well as identifying emotions and characteristics, the platform also helps children develop coping mechanisms so that in times of stress they know to turn to what helps them relax or makes them feel happy. Eventually there will be 10 modules but get over to stand BFS39 to see what is available now.

Back on World Mental Health Day in October the young Royals highlighted the plight of children who find it hard to cope with life at home or at school. The Duchess of Cambridge said: ‘I think the stigma of mental health needs to go. It’s a really dark place and one that isn’t always seen, and I think some people don’t even understand they’re dealing with their own emotional health – almost until it’s too late.’  Hopefully, the experts at Bett 2017 can help schools take steps to improve the support they offer to pupils.  

Sal McKeownSal McKeown is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in education. Sal has taught in schools andcolleges, supporting students with the full range of learning needs from sensory disabilities to mental health issues and autism, but is probably best known for her work on dyslexia.