Project Write-Up

In 2017, the Leicester based Odyssey Educational Trust set out to integrate wellbeing and resilience into their junior and infant schools. Their aim, to develop the mental health of their staff and pupils. Since then, by implementing focused policies and projects, the trust has successfully embedded wellbeing and resilience into their ethos, culture and curriculum.

Following a progress review with the trust's Executive Head and CEO Annemarie Williams, we are able to share their pioneering practice. A great example of how to integrate wellbeing and resilience within schools.

Below is a summary of what we discussed.

What first motivated you to embed wellbeing and resilience into your school?

The wellbeing and mental health of our school community is fundamental to our ethos as a school. Everything that we do here, whether directly or indirectly, is about children's happiness and wellbeing. This has always been the way that we have worked. As the more explicit mental health agenda came to the fore in recent years, we started working on it more directly.

One of our school values is resilience and we do a lot that focusses on this. As part of this, our PSHE curriculum lead went on a resilience training programme run by Worth-it in February 2017. She shared the information that she learnt with us and this led us to want to further our understanding of how resilience could be used to develop the mental health and wellbeing of our children.

We realised that we were already doing quite a lot, but that Worth-it could help improve what we were doing even further.

So what was your first step?

After the training, we started a conversation with Worth-it. Together, we assessed our school needs and priorities in regard to developing our wellbeing curriculum, of which resilience would be an integral part. The conversation helped us realise that we were already doing quite a lot, but that Worth-it could help improve what we were doing even further.

From there, we had a consultancy session with Worth-it, where Liz (our school consultant) came and spoke with our senior team. We looked at what we were already doing, what we wanted to do, and what more we needed to do to achieve our aims of embedding wellbeing into our curriculum. The session resulted in a bespoke school mental health and wellbeing framework being developed. We used this to map our effective practice and inform our curriculum development work. We still use this framework today and it is key in everything that we do.

And how did you implement this new mental health and wellbeing framework?

In May 2017, we used a staff twilight CPD session to launch the framework. This introduced the underpinning theory and our framework elements to the whole staff team.

At the start of the next academic year (August 2017), we then used our annual CPD residential to get into the nitty-gritty of the framework. Every year we go on a 2-day residential that is made up of two INSET days. This is a key opportunity for all of us to come together as a staff team and develop our wellbeing. This allows the team to reflect on their mental health, as well as to develop relationships and make sure that everyone understands the school's vision.

During this particular residential, Worth-it delivered a resilience training programme that they tailored specifically for us. They supported us to unpick the different strands of the framework with all of our staff and explore what these meant in practice. We used our residential, but other schools could just as easily use separate INSET days.

Following this, we put together a staff wellbeing project team to drive forward the changes we were making, lead staff wellbeing initiatives and to run the next residential. From then, we continued to look at the framework in more depth, as well as the specific wellbeing and resilience strategies we were developing.

Our curriculum is set up to think about children as active agents in the world. We don't shy away from talking about real world problems and issues.

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So what changes have you implemented as a result?

So many things. We've implemented changes to our policy and development plan so that they reflect the framework. Our policy is written under each strand of our framework and outlines expectations for pupils, staff and the community in each area.

In terms of pupil wellbeing and resilience we've:

  • Developed our taught wellbeing curriculum to reflect the new framework; utilising dedicated PSHE time but also curriculum time more broadly, and adding in reflection and mindfulness time. For example, during this time we:- Develop the children's understandings of 'positive self' and 'positive relationships' to help them experience wellbeing daily.- Get all the children to complete the 'myself as a learner' scale, which allows teachers to understand how each pupil learns so that they can provide more tailored support for their learning.- Use assemblies to focus on pupil voice, which is so important for wellbeing and mental health.
  • Introduced a 'playground buddies' initiative to support positive peer relationships.
  • Helped support children to develop meaning and purpose, for example through community circles work and children feeling like they have a sense of voice about what is going on in the world.
  • Developed a really strong after school programme with all different kinds of activities, and put sporting coaches out at lunchtime, really trying to get children to see that physical activity is good for your mental health.
  • Looked more specifically at what we can do as a trust to help our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
  • Implemented specific early prevention projects that have a real inclusion and mental health feel around them. This helps ensure that important questions like "What is mental health?" and "Is it okay to be different?" are discussed regularly.

On the staff wellbeing side of things, we have:

  • Ensured that our SLT and staff wellbeing team work collaboratively to ensure that the school wellbeing initiatives that are developed meet the needs of both the staff and children.
  • Ensured that staff are trained on specific branches of the wellbeing framework so that they understand how to use it in day-to-day practice.
  • Implemented a new marking policy with a lot more class marking and feedback and increased teacher's non-contact time. This increases capacity for planning and helps staff not to become overburdened by the demands of the bespoke curriculum we have at our school.
  • Implemented a yearly anonymised staff wellbeing survey, to ensure that staff voice is heard. This has led to quick wins, such as improving the lighting in the school car park, as well as the implementation of optional staff after-school wellbeing activities such as a staff choir and yoga. The fact that these are chosen and led by staff has meant that they have been hugely successful.

And as a whole school we:

  • Have started the school day earlier, so that it now runs from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. We found that the children would become restless as they got tired, so starting when the children are fresher means that they get less frustrated. It also gives staff more free time in the evening.
  • Employ qualified specialists to help both staff and pupils across the trust provide early prevention for the complex needs of many of our children. For example, we have Mental Health First Aiders, a psychotherapist, an inclusion manager, an SEN leader and behaviour mentors. We've almost put together a mini team to help students get help when they need it.
Rather than starting over from scratch, use what you've got and what already works and build on that. It'll be much easier to start and move forward...

What do you see as your biggest challenges moving forward?

I think there are always going to be some challenges that arise.

One key challenge for us is providing effective coordination and oversight of our targeted interventions and specialist support provision. There's a tension between operating as a mainstream school alongside offering specialist targeted support, and there has to be an infrastructure in place to support this.

There is a need to make sure that everyone works together in heading towards the same goal. As different team members come from different angles, is everybody understanding what we’re doing here, is it a coherent approach, are we all using the same messages, does everybody understand the different roles so that we are not replicating pieces of work? Somebody needs to coordinate this and provide quality assurance. Obviously this costs money and financing it is challenging but we look everywhere for different funding streams.

The other challenge is the sheer volume of need that comes in the door, which is huge, and the level of need of families. I think there is a significant opportunity for us to work with parents and families to help them support their children at home.

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What tips do you have for other schools wanting to integrate wellbeing and resilience into their school?

Firstly, think about your current curriculum and school ethos and developing a wellbeing framework that reflects that and works for you. Rather than starting over from scratch, use what you've got and what already works and build on that. It'll be much easier to start and move forward if you do that.

Secondly, think carefully about staff training and development. We've put a lot of time into that over the last 3 years. But you can use different sorts of time; INSET days, drop-in sessions and coaching sessions just to name a few. It's about pulling all the different parts of the framework and staff development together to ensure that its a success.

Looking for Ideas and Support?

To find out more about an example of effective practice in developing whole school wellbeing then sign up for our FREE Online Mini Example Taster course. Learn more about our approach to supporting schools develop positive mental health and wellbeing by signing up for our Free Downloadable Workshop. If you are looking for help and support to develop wellbeing in your school join our Free Support Community for Senior Mental Health Leads and Wellbeing Champions.

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