I recently had the pleasure of a zoom meeting with Dr Suzy Green of the Positivity Institute in Australia, who told me how they had started to change the wellbeing agenda in schools, with Positive Education.
The same week brought the DfE RSHE planning guidance and the two approaches contrasted starkly.
Our approach to well-being in the UK previously has been typified by the well-meaning but nonetheless sticking plaster approach which we see in the DfE guidance. My issue with this is that we start with a problem and then put things in place to try to solve the problem.
The trouble with this is that not all students have the same problem and not all students respond in the same way to the sticking plaster solution to solve that problem. It follows the well-worn route of identifying a perceived problem then putting an intervention in place to solve the problem. For example, bullying in schools is identified in the DfE planning guidance, so the suggested solution is to do some interventions to help the bully and support the bullied.
We realised some years ago that the best way to support those starving in Africa was not to keep giving them food but to provide them with the means to grow their own food. Remember the saying “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?
However, this is exactly what we do with our students. Currently, the model is to create solutions for students which solve the immediate problem.
Just imagine however that we educate our children with a set of skills, attitudes and knowledge that meant they could solve their own challenges because they had been taught the skills to do this?
We would have less need to intervene but critically students would know how to deal with most of the mental health and well-being challenges that they face. This would lead to less referrals to CAMHS and in the future less demand on adult mental health services.
However, the thing that really fires me is the idea that students develop a lifelong ability to be more skilled and autonomous in addressing the challenges that they face because they have learnt how to.
Positive Education is a branch of positive psychology which supports the flourishing of students. Not only does Pos Ed support the development of positive emotions, full engagement in learning or flow, the development of positive relationships and meaning from life and accomplishment, the studies show that it also has up to a 20% positive impact on standards.
“We used to believe that if I do well at school, I’ll feel good. We now know that the opposite is true. When I feel good, I do well.”
It should not come as a surprise to us that if we feel better mentally and physically that we are in a better place to do well, and this applies to staff and students.
So why doesn’t this approach to flourishing sit alongside teaching and learning as the most important aspects of a school’s work? Good question.
The truth is that for many, it does. I am currently working with schools as far north as Huntly in Scotland to South London, from Stockport to Skegness. Schools who are on the Positive Education journey and what is more we are working with a range of agencies to demonstrate impact.
If you would like to know more about equipping your students with the skills for better well-being and mental health beyond the sticking plasters then don’t hesitate to contact me. We have a growing Positive Education network in the UK and you won’t be alone. Part of the network is about joining up schools who have been on the journey with those who are just starting. It’s about the profession learning from the profession.
Now more than ever, giving our students the skills set rather than a band aid to support their own mental health and wellbeing must be the only way forward.
The Leadership Support Package which includes expert advice and resources for school leadership is exclusive to NAHT Wellness and Protect. This is included within the wellbeing support available with our policies, to learn more click here.
Andy Mellor – national director of wellbeing for NAHT Wellness and Protect
Andy has over 30 years’ experience of teaching and leading in the state education system in England.
He has taught and led in a range of schools, culminating in 17 years as Headteacher of a 2 form entry primary school in Blackpool leading the school to Ofsted outstanding in March 2016.
Since then he has opened and led the Blackpool Teaching School Alliance and supported the school led system in Blackpool being a board member for the Blackpool Opportunity Area and the Blackpool School Improvement Board.
From May 2018 to May 2019 Andy was the National President of NAHT. He left headship in December 2019 to become National Director of Well-being for Schools Advisory Service, sharing the organisation’s vision for all schools to become well-being friendly for both staff and pupils.