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Pupil wellbeing: getting to the heart of the matter

How is pupils' emotional wellbeing supported in fee-paying schools - and are parents kept informed when concerns arise?

Posted by Hannah Vickers | July 16, 2017 | Health & wellbeing

By Deborah Fisher, head of SIMS Independent 

If a previously hard-working child suddenly starts to lose interest in lessons, or you spot that a pupil is consistently late for class, it could be that they are having difficulty with the subject. But some schools also regard this as a sign that they might be struggling emotionally. 

The impact of emotional wellbeing on a child’s progress in school is widely accepted. As exam results day approaches, I wanted to share some interesting figures from a survey of staff in independent schools we recently conducted on the topic, which revealed the increasing emphasis being placed on flagging concerns early and providing the right support sooner. 

Spotting the signs

The figures from the survey revealed that staff often look beyond falling grades to identify when a child might be in emotional difficulty. Some schools have developed useful strategies for identifying the key non-academic indicators to help them pinpoint problems early, so they can act quickly, where necessary. 

Changes in behaviour

89% of survey respondents said that a change in conduct was one of the most important signs that all may not be well with a child. This might be a pupil, usually well-behaved in school, who starts regularly causing conflict in the playground. This behaviour could point to a deeper issue that the child needs extra support to resolve.

But, the results also highlighted the importance school place on keeping families informed when concerns are raised – 96% of staff said that their schools alerted parents to behavioural changes in their child. This suggests that schools regard the support of families as vital for addressing problems before they become more deeply entrenched.  

Slipping attendance

If a child starts to miss their Wednesday afternoon hockey practice, it could be that they are finding the activity challenging, or something unrelated to their achievement is causing them to feel unhappy at school. In our survey, 54% of respondents felt that persistent lateness or poor attendance was an indicator that a child might be struggling emotionally. 

Importantly, 90% of respondents said that they would inform families of issues with their child’s attendance or punctuality. But there are other signs schools look out for too. 

Friendship woes

Those staff in our survey acknowledge the importance of friendships in a child’s school experience. 31% of respondents said that changes in friendships or relationships with classmates was a key sign of potential emotional issues at school.

This may be evident in a child’s sudden refusal to work alongside their peers, or a pupil being left out of playground games. More than half of the staff surveyed (51%) said that they would note information about changes to a child’s friendship group, or relationship with peers. Recording details such as these can enable staff to pick up on any issues, and provide appropriate support to help pupils resolve their difficulties more quickly.

Sharing concerns 

It was clear from the survey that alerting parents to any concerns about their child’s emotional wellbeing was a priority for many schools. 

Some schools use text, email and online portals to keep parents up to date with issues, including behavioural changes or problems with punctuality. 

Similarly, if a child is experiencing difficult situations at home, such as a change in the family’s circumstances, a house move or the loss of a pet, schools need to know. Many encourage parents to share relevant information with teachers about problems at home, so they are better equipped to support pupils and give them additional help to cope when faced with new challenges or life changes.

By recognising some of the warning signs, and ensuring good relationships are maintained with families, many schools are putting a valuable support network in place for their pupils, and this holistic approach to their education will give our children academic qualifications and emotional resilience to succeed in the future.

Deborah Fisher is head of SIMS Independent. For further information on how SIMS Independent is supporting schools, visit their website.

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