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Schools: Making wellbeing part of every day life

Dulwich Prep Cranbrook made wellbeing a central focus for the entire school long before Covid cast its shadow. So how do they do it?

Emotional wellbeing – pastoral support and mental health have rightly moved centre stage in education over recent months. But Dulwich Prep Cranbrook made wellbeing a central focus for the entire school long before Covid cast its shadow. So what can we all learn from their expertise in this area?

PUT IT AT THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING

‘The aim of pastoral care at Dulwich is simple, everything is focused on helping the children believe in themselves, to flourish in the classroom and thrive as individuals and active members of the school community,’ says Mr David. ‘If you can get that right everything else should follow.’

Mr David adds: ‘Children’s wellbeing and happiness is at the absolute core of our ethos. We want every child to truly relish the beautiful messy process of learning and love school life so we make sure each child feels incredibly well supported – emotionally, physically and intellectually. We are able to do this by balancing robust best practice with innovative initiatives that capture children’s imaginations.’

A lot of schools use the buzz words of ‘wellbeing’ and ‘pastoral care’ but Dulwich Prep Cranbrook doesn’t just talk about it, they’ve weaved it into the very fabric of the school.

DEDICATED PLACE TO TALK

Headmaster Mr Paul David says: ‘This year we’re celebrating 4 years of our partnership with leading mental health charity, Place2Be.’ Place2Be provides mental health counselling support and training to schools to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and staff.

Place2Be therapy rooms at Dulwich Prep

Children readily make use of the informal Place2Talk sessions where they can freely talk about friendship issues, self-esteem and anxiety. Children can either write on a slip of paper and post in the box, or pop in, or tell their teacher or parents. The idea is to maintain confidentiality, and to encourage children to own their worries and ask for help. It’s OK not be OK!

Alison Eckersley, Assistant Head who oversees the programme, says: ‘Therapeutic support is accessible and easily available to the children, and mental health is discussed as readily as physical health. Using this support system soon becomes second nature to the children and there is certainly no stigma attached to going to see the school Counsellors here.’

Conversations around wellbeing vary – from troubles in the playground to more deep-seated issues – and take place as a matter of course throughout the school. Alison adds: ‘We are very proud that support is available as part of the universal school offer with no additional financial cost to our parents.’

YOGA AND RELAXATION

Everything is tailored to be age-appropriate, providing the right level of support at the right time. For example girls in Year 8 are supported on a weekly basis with a yoga and relaxation session.

‘Chakras and Chocolate’, for example, is one scheme offered to help the children to explore the emotional challenges experienced by many teenage girls: to manage relationships, transitions, performance anxiety and difference within a healthy context.

SUPPORT FOR PARENTS

The school has initiated a number of talks and workshops for parents – designed to support mums and dads with the challenges of parenthood and to deepen their understanding of their children’s needs – covering topics such as resilience, self-care, self-regulation, transitions and attachment difficulties.

Alison Eckersley adds: The partnership between school, parent and child is fundamental to providing the best outcomes for the children. The school also offers specific individual support to parents at Dulwich – which parents are clearly finding useful as the uptake in sessions has doubled year on year.

iSPACE WELLBEING

Dulwich Prep Cranbrook strengthened its commitment to building emotional resilience for all children by being one of the very first schools in the country to use the iSpace Wellbeing and #iWonder programmes. 

This is a wellbeing educational curriculum – using an interactive space theme to make it child-friendly – which the school incorporates into weekly lessons. It teaches children (in a fun, every-day way) to use strategies, a common language, positive psychology and mindfulness tools to help support their wellbeing and personal development. 

The programme offers pupils throughout the school strategies and tools to help overcome challenges and to thrive despite setbacks – using characters and stories, teaching children how to be calm and deal with their ‘niggles and stressors’ (two alien characters). Pupils in Years 7 and Year 8 are introduced to #iWonder which links neatly into the PSCHEE curriculum.

CHILD-LED CHOICES

A school with a reputation for sporting success, Dulwich is determined that each child can find an activity that they enjoy, and thrive doing, without the emphasis always having to be on competitive team sports. 

This school believes that it is important that everyone needs to put themselves out of their comfort zone from time to time, try something new and learn from the challenge. With this in mind they launched the Dulwich Inspires! programme, as an alternative to the normal Games afternoons offered at a lot of preps. 

If a child likes to be active and outdoors, but simply not so keen on competitive team sports, there’s the chance to try individual pursuits such as climbing or sailing, wind surfing, kayaking (at Bewl) or Mountain Biking (at Bedgebury). 

Or, for others that want to try something else entirely, there’s a huge variety of options – like Healthy Eating Club where they might learn to make seriously delicious, reduced-sugar, banana muffins! 

Mr David says: ‘Other inspiring, children-initiated, physical wellbeing activities include developing a HIIT work-out and DVD for younger children. This half term we have Walking, Talking and Drawing as an activity or Gardening on offer.’

THE MUDDY VERDICT

This is a school that has made it a priority to ensure mental health and wellbeing conversations are part of the fabric of everyday school life for children and their families.

And what children learn at this age will stay with them throughout the potentially tricky teenage years, and beyond, to build on in adult life. We parents know there are no guarantees in life, but with exceptional pastoral care like this in place, you’re starting from a pretty good place.

SEE FOR YOURSELF Go visit Dulwich Prep Cranbrook during their Open Morning Week from Mon 16 – Fri 20 November 2020.

Dulwich Prep Cranbrook, Coursehorn, Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 3NP, 01580 712179, dulwichprepcranbrook.org

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