Promoting mental health and wellbeing in schools: front-line innovation in Wales
A recent BBC School Report highlighted that 70% of 11-16 year olds say that they have had one or more negative feelings in the past year. This has led to urgent calls to action to transform mental health services in schools.
In Wales, improving student wellbeing is a key focus of the new curriculum review, commissioned by the Welsh Government, and is reflected in a ground-breaking piece of Welsh legislation: The Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015.
Researchers at the Wales Centre for Primary and Emergency Care Research (PRIME), the Centre for Trials Research (CTR) and the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), worked in partnership with staff, students and governors at Monmouth Comprehensive School to identify the key ingredients of a sustainable restorative approach that aims to enhance student health and wellbeing.
Senior leadership at Monmouth Comprehensive began to use the restorative approach in 2008 in response to increasing levels of exclusion among students. Staff members were also frustrated that their approach to behaviour management through the expectation of reward (merit systems) or fear of punishment (punitive systems) did not result in any meaningful change. The School wished to help students develop intrinsic motivation to make changes.
"...conflict is an opportunity to build community, rather than to punish and blame." - senior leadership.
The restorative approach develops a congruent model for building, maintaining and repairing relationships. Five core principles frame the school’s values and visions:
- sharing perspectives and listening to one another
- exploring the link between thoughts and feelings and actions
- understanding our actions have an impact
- understanding that we have needs that connect us to purpose
- the best people to find solutions are the people themselves.
These principles when applied to pedagogy, curriculum design, leadership and relationships can transform the philosophy, behaviour and language of the school.
The adoption of the restorative approach at Monmouth Comprehensive School resulted in clear, measurable benefits such as increased student attendance and reductions in student exclusions, youth offending team referrals, antisocial behaviour in the community and staff absence.
In 2015, it was the first state-funded Welsh school to receive the Restorative Service Quality Mark in recognition of their work.
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