11th January 2017

Young Minds: School should be a safe haven

Author: YoungMinds

At YoungMinds, we care greatly about the mental health of young people. Statistics show that 3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disease, and we now know that over 50% of adult mental health problems develop before the age of 14. These figures highlight the extremely early onset of mental health issues, and point very clearly to the role of school in forming a young person’s wellbeing, resilience, health and happiness – as well as being the facilitator of their academic progress.

Education should mean more than assessment, and we should be equipping our children with the social and emotional skills, and the resilience that they will need as they progress onto secondary school, and into the wider world.

Our young people today face a slew of challenges and pressures – exacerbated by the online world and social media – and we know that issues such as cyber bullying, body image pressures, and accessing adult content online are affecting children at younger ages than ever before.

In addition to all of the pressures of modern life, young children can then face added pressure in the classroom, when at such an early stage in their learning they might find themselves worried and anxious about upcoming tests.

Subsequently, there is a pressure on teachers to structure lesson plans around the trajectory of exam preparation, and teachers often end up working tirelessly to achieve particular grade averages and results in their classroom. We believe teachers should be free to plan lessons that focus on creativity and holistic learning, to progress the development of each child that they are responsible for. We know that teachers care deeply about the wellbeing and happiness of the children in their classroom, especially as they oversee such pivotal early stages of their development – yet sometimes they are unable to focus on wellbeing or emotional development as an integral part of their job, as primary assessment looms and can unfortunately dominate and direct their workload.
Furthermore, school can be a safe haven for children who are affected by disruptive home lives, or suffer from risk factors such as adverse poverty, violence and abuse, or unstable family structures. School is an important institution; a place of stability, safety, and trusted adults. These vulnerable children deserve care, support, and supervision at school – rather than having to focus on formal assessments, which they sadly may underperform in. We believe that teachers, as education professionals, should be able to comprehensively support the children in their classroom in the way they think is best – and assessment at this early stage in their school journey may not be well-suited or conducive to progress for all children.
Consequently, we know that children with good mental health are likely to perform better academically… Children who are suffering from mental distress, anxiety, or self-harm are far less likely to be learning efficiently or performing well in assessment, and are far more likely to have disruptive behaviour, be absent, and sadly to eventually be excluded from secondary school. In order to prepare our children for academic success in their secondary school career and for their progression onto further education, it would be far more efficient at primary school to focus firmly on equipping children with improved resilience. We should be preparing children to deal with hardship and stress in the future and to equip them with an awareness of their emotional wellbeing – and starting this as early as we can.

At YoungMinds, we believe education means a lot more than assessment – and that at key stages one and two in primary school, we should be focusing on a child’s development and wellbeing, as well as their academic development.

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