Support for Schools

Here are some projects that schools can get involved with to enhance the student experience.


1. Support Students’ Mental Health

Not Fine in School

Not Fine in School is a parent/carer-led organisation set up in response to the growing number of children and young people who struggle with school anxiety.

They have a guide for professionals which offers tips for school staff in these circumstances.

Many parents find that teachers insist that a child is fine once they are in school. This can be dangerous and untrue. The guide offers a checklist for professionals to use before they make the claim that a child is “fine”, as well as practical suggestions for helping to meet the needs of a child who is struggling to attend school.

They recommend early intervention, with professionals and parents working together, to minimise any impact on education and wellbeing.


Mentally Healthy Schools

The Mentally Healthy Schools website offers advice and resources to help primary school staff understand and promote children’s mental health and wellbeing. They say that:

“A mentally healthy school is one that adopts a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. It is a school that helps children flourish, learn and succeed by providing opportunities for them, and the adults around them, to develop the strengths and coping skills that underpin resilience.

A mentally healthy school sees positive mental health and wellbeing as fundamental to its values, mission and culture. It is a school where child, staff and parent/carer mental health and wellbeing is seen as ‘everybody’s business’.

A whole-school approach involves all parts of the school working together and being committed. It needs partnership working between governors, senior leaders, teachers and all school staff, as well as parents, carers and the wider community.”


Mental Health First Aid England

The youth arm of Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) offers courses for anyone who works with, lives with or supports young people aged 8-18. The training helps adults develop the skills and confidence to step in, offer first aid and guide children and young people towards the support they need.

In doing so, they can speed up a young person’s recovery, stop issues from developing into a crisis and ultimately save lives. The MHFA website states:

“Suicide is the second most common cause of death for those aged 5-19 years. Record levels of young people are struggling.

Academic pressure, social media, bullying, poverty, lack of availability of professional mental health support – all have been named by various sources as contributing to this epidemic of poor mental health in our young people.

It’s clear that young people are not getting the support they need. Key figures in a young person’s life – parents, family members, teachers, tutors, carers, youth workers – can often spot when a young person is struggling but may not know how best to help.”

You can sign up to one of MHFA’s half-day, one-day or two-day youth training courses at https://mhfaengland.org/organisations/youth/


2. Introduce Practices to Give Students a Voice

Phoenix Education

Phoenix Education is a pioneering charity providing inspiration and support to enhance student participation, engagement and democracy in schools.

Their mission is to transform students’ experience of education, helping them to take ownership over their time in school and to become active citizens.

Their website offers ten strategies that staff can implement to improve student participation, from appointing student representatives on governing bodies, setting up or enhancing student councils, to introducing restorative justice programmes.

They also share a range of tools that can be adapted for use in the classroom, board meetings or student council. They state:

“According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has the basic fundamental right to express their opinions and be listened to on matters affecting them.

Furthermore, effective student voice practices in schools have been shown to help young people engage better with school and improve wellbeing and relationships for learning.”

Phoenix Education also invites secondary schools to take part in their bespoke Voice Labs programme. This initiative – which has reached out to almost 4,000 students in the last two years – starts with an initial, free consultation with lead school staff. They would then work with you in collaboration to design bespoke training sessions for a group of selected participants.

You can get a feel for how this might work in practice by watching this short film. It provides a case study of their Voice Labs programme at Clevedon School in Somerset:

Phoenix Education Voice Labs

Find out more about Phoenix Education and how they could help you to activate student voice in your school in this short film:

Phoenix Education – Activating Student Voice

StudentVoice

Previously known as the English Secondary Students Association, StudentVoice has a strong history of engaging with young people and working with decision makers as well as the media.

StudentVoice believes that every student should be able to represent their views about their school and their education. As such, they provide training for secondary school students in confidence building, communication skills, campaigning and consultation. They also offer a training package for teachers and governors.

StudentVoice invites your school to become a StudentVoice School. For a small fee, you will receive a number of benefits including a 10% discount on training by the Phoenix Education Trust.

You can find out more here: http://studentvoice.co.uk/sites/default/files/StudentVoice%20Schools%20brochure.pdf


3. Give Students Their Human Rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was drawn up to ensure that universal rights of children are upheld throughout the world. It the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and came into force in the UK in 1992.

While many argue that it is impossible to realise children’s rights in our coercive state school system, UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools Award is a step in the right direction.

Rights Respecting Schools Award

Children’s charity, UNICEF UK has developed a programme called Rights Respecting Schools which helps primary, secondary and special needs schools to use the UNCRC as a values framework, so that children’s rights are embedded into the school ethos and culture. The programme is based on principals of equality, dignity, respect, non-discrimination and participation.

Your school can join almost 5,000 other schools up and down the country who are working through the Award.

In order to gain recognition as a Rights Respecting School, there are two levels of self-evaluation. It is a whole-school approach involving teachers, students and parents.

Find out more in this short film:

UNICEF UK: Being Rights Respecting at School

4. Set Up a Parent Council

Research has shown that parental engagement is one of the most powerful school improvement levers that exists. One way of facilitating parent/staff collaboration is to set up a Parent Council, so that parents can contribute to school decision-making.

A briefing on parents’ rights published by the Campaign for State Education (2016) states that “every school should have parent governors democratically elected by parents, but it is important that they have a constituency to relate to, and this is best done by establishing Parent Councils with representation from each year” (Alternative Approaches to Education, by Fiona Carnie).

A Parent Council can run as follows:

  • Parent nominated from each class or tutor group.
  • A group of 10-15 parents.
  • Regular meetings to raise and discuss issues of concern
    e.g. homework, class sizes, staffing, behaviour policy, uniform, curriculum.
  • Views and decisions to be fed back to school
    governing body.
  • Views and decisions to be taken into account in
    school decision-making.

It is also recommended that each class has regular class parents’ meetings with the teacher to discuss issues affecting the class.

Equally, it is valuable for parents councils to have a link to student councils so that parents and students can work together and support each other (Rebuilding Schools from the Bottom Up, by Fiona Carnie).

Carnie also recommends that parents are represented in decision-making at local and national levels. Each local authority and multi-academy trust should have a parent forum with representatives from different schools and parent groups, so that parents can be consulted about issues which affect them and their children. Carnie says:

A National Parents’ Council consisting of representatives from different areas could represent parents’ views to the Government and ensure that parents are consulted on education policy and other legislation affecting children and young people.

There needs to be a channel through which the Government can hear parents’ concerns about education. Parents are major stakeholders in the education system, and so, since we live in a democracy, they should have a voice at all levels.”

Educationalist and author, Fiona Carnie


5. Set Up a Teacher Council

Studies from the US have found that when teachers are involved in school decisions, and collaborate with school leaders and with each other, the school climate improves. This promotes a better learning environment for students, which raises student achievement, and a better working environment for teachers, which reduces teacher turnover (Rebuilding Schools from the Bottom Up, by Fiona Carnie).

For example, according to researcher, Richard Ingersoll, data from the Schools and Staffing Survey administered by the US Department of Education’s National Centre for Education Statistics shows that as teacher control over ‘social decisions’ (such as student discipline and teacher professional development policies) increases, the amount of conflict between students and staff, amongst teachers, and between teachers and the principal decrease.

One way of giving teachers a voice is to set up a Teacher Council. The purpose is to discuss general issues and recommend changes or improvements to school policies. Issues that are under discussion by the governing body and school leadership could be brought to the staff council meetings to ensure staff views feed into the decision-making process. Similarly, issues and concerns raised by staff could be reported to the governing body.

Teachers must have a voice at national level too. Carnie says:

“At national level, policy makers have everything to gain from hearing from those on the ground and reflecting what they hear in education decision-making. Teachers are at the heart of our school system and are thus key stakeholders to be consulted in the development of policies which they play such an integral part in delivering.”


6. Enhance Opportunities for Outdoor Learning and Play

Here are three websites which can provide your school with inspiration for initiating or improving opportunities for outdoor learning and play:

Creative STAR Learning

Creative STAR Learning Ltd was established in 2007 to provide support, training, advice and resources on outdoor learning and play. 

It was founded by Juliet Robertson, one of Scotland’s leading education consultants who is passionate about enabling schools, play organisations and early years settings to provide quality outdoor learning and play opportunities for children and young people.

They offer a number of courses which help school and early years staff to feel inspired and motivated to take children outside more often, gain practical ideas and develop their understanding of learning and teaching processes outdoors. They also offer bespoke School Support Visits.

You can follow Juliet Robertson’s blog here: https://creativestarlearning.co.uk/blog/

Juliet has also written two books which are useful school resources:

Dirty Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors, by Juliet Robertson

In this book, Robertson offers outdoor learning support for primary schools:

“One of the keys to a happy and creative classroom is getting out of it and this book will give you the confidence to do just that. There is no need for expensive tools or complicated technologies: all you need is your coat and a passion for learning.”

Messy Maths: A Playful, Outdoor Approach for Early Years, by Juliet Robertson

“Messy Maths reimagines the outdoor space through a mathematical lens providing a treasure trove of suggestions that will empower you to blend outdoor learning into your teaching practice.

It is an easy-to-use reference book replete with games and ideas designed to help children become confident and skilled in thinking about, using and exploring abstract mathematical concepts as they play outside.

Topics include exploring numbers; number functions and fractions; money; measurement; time; pattern; shape and symmetry; position, direction and movement; data handling; routines; and the mathematical garden.”


Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)

OPAL works with schools to help them benefit from play and utilise their space more effectively.

They are committed to ensuring that Article 31 (the right to play) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is recognised and implemented in all UK schools and by all organisations which have an impact on the quality of childhood.

In 2019 OPAL collected two first place awards at the National Playwork Awards.

Opal’s Primary Programme – based on many years of research and development – is a mentor supported school improvement programme. It addresses all of the areas schools must plan for if they want to sustainably improve the quality of play.

During the programme OPAL work with schools over an 18 month period to support a cultural and practical transformation of the way that play is thought about, planned for, resourced and staffed. Most OPAL schools report that they could never go back to the way they had been once they have completed the programme. OPAL says:

“We support primary schools to dramatically improve the quality of play times, with a consequent beneficial impact on lunchtime behaviour (some of our schools have seen their serious behavioural problems completely disappear!), engagement, learning, personal development and physical activity/literacy”

Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)

To get an idea of how play-time could look, here is a short video from St Michael’s Catholic Primary School in Surrey, filmed after 18 months of working with OPAL:

Amazing Primary Playtime at St Michael’s OPAL Platinum School

Let Grow

The Let Grow website from the US has a couple of great ideas for schools to promote play, and in turn, build independence and resilience among students.

The Let Grow Play Club

This involves schools keeping their playgrounds open until dinner-time for self-directed free play. Students build social skills and creativity by making their own fun. The mixed-age play and long stretch of tech-free time provide opportunities for social and emotional growth that go far beyond the possibilities at playtime or lunch break.

Find out more in this short film:

Let Grow Play Club

The Let Grow Project

Let Grow say that this second idea is simple:

“Teachers tell the students to go home and ask their parents if they can do one thing they feel ready to do that they haven’t done before e.g. walk the dog, make dinner, get themselves to school, either alone or with other children. The result is often a great leap in confidence and decline in anxiety (reportedly in both generations!).”

You can find out more in this short film:

The Let Grow Project

7. Incorporate LGBT Themes into the Curriculum

LGBT rights charity, Stonewall has produced a guide for secondary schools – sponsored by education publisher, Pearson – to help teachers include Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) themes in lessons, to ensure all pupils feel represented.

From choosing appropriate texts in English to using LGBT-inclusive statistics in Maths, this curriculum guide provides tips, prompts and lesson ideas to help you incorporate LGBT people and themes into every area of the curriculum.

Delivering a more representative curriculum, reflective of modern Britain, helps all pupils feel included, resulting in higher engagement and better learning outcomes. This is crucial as many pupils currently feel that LGBT themes are absent from the curriculum.

Stonewall’s 2017 School Report survey of over 3,700 LGBT pupils in Britain’s secondary schools, found that 2 in 5 LGBT pupils are never taught anything about LGBT issues, and worryingly, nearly half of LGBT pupils are bullied at school, with trans pupils at particular risk. Stonewall’s Director of Education and Youth, Hannah Kibirige, says:

“This guide enables teachers to create lessons which not only include, but celebrate lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, their experiences and their history.

Not only does this encourage all young people to understand the importance of valuing difference, but it also ensures that young LGBT people see themselves reflected in their learning. Steps like this help create inclusive school environments and, importantly, also help to tackle bullying.”

Hannah Kibirige , Stonewall

You can download the guide on the Stonewall website at: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources/creating-lgbt-inclusive-secondary-curriculumfbclid=IwAR0F9BD7EXrZKmN2bU0_FWUGKiBdi2jwUDdaVhN0Uvujjs8G6aTLxdjBJR0


8. Decolonise the Curriculum

The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise which aims to:

1. Provide a sense of belonging and identity to young people across the UK.

2. Teach an accessible educational Black British history curriculum that raises attainment for young people.

3. Improve social cohesion between young people.

They offer industry leading consultation, teacher training and certification for schools, bespoke school learning programmes including workshops and assemblies, as well as their out of school Springboard programme, and a 12 topic curriculum which they license to teachers and schools.

WeAreTeachers

The US We Are Teachers website states how crucial it is for parents and teachers to feel confident and prepared to lead important discussions about what it means to not only be “not racist,” but to resolutely be anti-racist. They have compiled a list of 21 videos to get you started.

You can also visit Diverse Books for Kids which is an Instagram account promoting books with diverse characters and stories for the classroom and home.