Four Steps to Better Wellbeing in Schools – Words by Rachel Jones – Headteacher and Safeguarding Lead at Kingsley St John’s School in Cheshire

Rachel Jones

As a headteacher, it is concerning to witness the rise in mental health issues among students post-pandemic. Early intervention is crucial, especially given the alarming statistics showing that over 500,000 children are waiting for mental health support. We wanted to explore how we could assist our pupils in facing these challenges.

After the pandemic, we observed increased difficulties in the home-to-school transition, impacting the start of the school day and delaying teaching. Our primary objective was to create a comprehensive approach to pupil wellbeing, incorporating innovative technology to support our teachers and empower students. This approach aimed to manage stress and foster resilience, ultimately enhancing mental health and overall wellbeing.

The results have been promising. One pupil’s difficult transition from home to school, which initially involved school refusal and a teacher spending 45 minutes to settle an anxious child, quickly transformed into excitement about attending school in just a few days. I hope our experience can assist other headteachers. Here are the four steps we have implemented to improve pupil wellbeing at our school:

Step 1: Customised Wellbeing Support

We recognise the uniqueness of each pupil’s wellbeing journey and have developed a personalised approach to wellbeing support. Immediate assistance is provided to students facing various challenges, empowering them to manage their emotions effectively. Strategies include 1-2-1 support during difficult times, small roles of responsibility upon entering school, and bespoke visual and emotional support.

Step 2: Evidence-Based Decision Making

At Kingsley, we prioritise data-informed decision-making to ensure the effectiveness of our wellbeing practices. By collecting and analysing pupil wellbeing data, we gain valuable insights into trends, patterns, and areas needing additional support. This comprehensive view allows us to tailor interventions, allocate resources effectively, and measure the impact of our efforts over time. We consider data from attendance, behaviour records, and daily wellbeing logs.

Step 3: Integrating Technology for Mental Health

Recognising the need for innovative solutions to address mental health challenges, we explored technology tools to support our pupils. We have integrated technology such as mindfulness and emotional regulation apps such as to automatically tailor interventions and coping strategies to each child’s needs. These digital tools have created calmer classrooms, improved behaviour, and enhanced pupil outcomes. For example, every child in key stage 2 accessed a personalised app to regulate their emotions and receive tailored support.

Step 4: Long-Term Emotional Support

By supporting pupils’ wellbeing, we empower them through listening, conversing, and providing coping strategies. Early intervention prevents crises and promotes self-regulation. We teach pupils self-coping strategies, gradually empowering them to manage their emotions independently. This encourages open dialogue, destigmatises mental health, and offers valuable insights, emphasising a commitment to pupil wellbeing. Our pupils learn that their feelings are real, but their thoughts and behaviours can help them manage these feelings effectively.

Using these approaches has helped create calmer classrooms without increasing the teacher workload. In fact, it has allowed adults in the school to address other needs and requirements by freeing them from the need for co-regulation at the start of the school day.

Rachel Jones is the Headteacher and Safeguarding Lead at Kingsley St John’s School in Cheshire. With 15 years of experience as a headteacher and 26 years in the teaching profession, and is passionate about the welfare of pupils in their school community. Rachel is trained in Trauma and Mental Health. Rachel is also an English Lead, where her passion for reading and literacy shines through, and she is a SIAMs (Statutory Inspection for Anglican and Methodist Schools) inspector. Rachel is also a member of The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), underscoring her commitment to professional development and best practices.