Wellbeing in Essex schools

Essex schools use CBT to relieve exam pressure

 League tables and exam results

Talk to any teacher or educationalist and they will tell you that education nowadays is driven by an obsession with league tables and exam results. On 3 November, Education secretary Nicky Morgan made a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank pushing for more rigorous testing for seven year olds. Ministers will be deciding on whether to introduce standardised tests to sort children in Year 2 by academic ability, with supporters arguing that more accurate baseline testing is needed to measure progress from KS1 to KS2.

Stress, anxiety, anger management and confidence

Mike EllenGetting good grades is one path to success, but the pressure to achieve, also causes a lot of stress and anxiety for teachers and children. Mike Ellen heads a team of three therapists working for Mind in West Essex who deliver Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) based work at schools in Uttlesford. They work with groups or one-to-one with secondary school pupils experiencing stress, anxiety, anger management and confidence issues.

“Schools can be difficult environments,” says Mike. “You’ve got exam pressure, peer pressure and parental pressure, or sometimes lack of family support, all affecting the young people. Teaching is also becoming an increasingly stressful job due to the exam targets and huge amounts of admin.”

Mike usually delivers up to 6 one-to-one sessions with young people who are suffering from stress or anxiety. “CBT is very targeted and is about changing the way that we think,” he says. “So if a young person is thinking, ‘I’m no good. I can’t do this,’ or ‘I’m scared of doing this.’ we will gently examine why they think this way. Then we give some suggestions for more positive responses to stressful or anxiety-provoking situations. The coping mechanisms that young people learn can serve them for the rest of their lives.”

At the end of the sessions with Mike and his team, young people often report feeling happier, have an understanding of how to manage their thoughts, emotions and behaviours better and feel more able to deal with academic and life stresses. The sessions also look at helping any young people who are self-harming to develop better ways of coping with distress.

Where is Therapeutic Support on the agenda?

Given the obvious benefits of supporting children who are anxious and/or stressed, it is surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. Funding for the work that Mike does is always short-term, as local authorities and schools struggle to stretch budgets that have been cut by central government. Proving conclusively that CBT has improved exam results or a child’s overall wellbeing can be difficult, so therapeutic support often slips down the agenda when schools and councils allocate their budgets.

Poor mental health is damaging businesses and the economy

Every year fresh studies prove the link between stress, anxiety, poor mental health and the loss to businesses and the economy. The Centre for Mental Health estimated that the cost of poor mental health to social services and the economy in England during 2009-2010 was £105 billion. Charities such as The Samaritans, Mind and Rethink have focussed more on battling the personal losses; including stigma, depression, self-harm and suicide.

Putting mental health on the National Curriculum

Whatever the outcome, these problems usually begin in early life. Studies show that for adults who have a diagnosed mental health problem, over 75% of these were diagnosed in their mid to late teens. Schools could offer a valuable opportunity to nip anxiety, stress and anger-related issues in the bud, or at least teach young people how to deal with the consequences of these powerful inhibitors.

It is surprising, given the increase and prevalence of mental health disorders in Britain, (Mind claim that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 young people suffer a mental health disorder in any one year), that there is nothing in the National Curriculum about managing stress and anxiety. Research conducted by The Samaritans, showed that over 24,000 teenagers self-harm every year. Mike Ellen asks why the syllabus for PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) includes little to nothing about looking after our mental wellbeing.

There is an overwhelming body of evidence pointing to an urgent need to better educate people, and especially young people, about coping with mental health disorders. The need has never been more pressing to invest more in supporting children to become happier, healthier and more contributing members of society. Now, surely, these are more valuable indicators of success, than exam results.

You may also like to access National Mind’s information and support page which has links to a world of help and suggestions.

All best wishes for a productive, healthy and happy autumn from all of us at Mind in West Essex!

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