How Heathfield ensures pupils flourish at school and beyond

Headteacher Marina Gardiner Legge explains how pupils at Heathfield School, Ascot, are benefitting from an innovative Australian wellbeing programme

Taking a positive approach to help young people develop the ‘pillars’ of good mental health is essential if we are to guide the next generation towards staying well and optimising quality of life. 

At Heathfield School we chose to adopt an innovative mental health and wellbeing programme at the start of 2018 – introducing it to the UK after observing its proven success in Australia where it is widely endorsed by universities and has been picked up by other private and public (state) schools thanks to a growing interest in the positive education agenda there. Rather than identifying those in distress or ‘at risk’, the ‘Flourishing at School’ programme aims to promote wellbeing from the outset and is based on leading psychologist Martin Seligman’s work on PERMA – improving positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. It starts with a survey to assess students’ current mental wellbeing, which enables us to set a baseline from which to develop a personalised programme for each pupil.

Crucially, this is a primary level intervention to make sure our pupils are mentally fit and healthy – and is proactive rather than reactive. It is particularly useful in a boarding school environment where we have such prolonged periods of contact with pupils – including involvement in their sleep patterns and nutrition.

“Taking a positive approach to help young people develop the ‘pillars’ of good mental health is essential if we are to guide the next generation towards staying well and optimising quality of life.” 

Under the guidance of our Director of Pastoral Care, Kathryn de Ferrer, and Director of Boarding, John Gale (who first came across the programme and introduced it to our school), all pupils at Heathfield School – as well as many of the staff – have now completed the Flourishing at School survey and we can progress to the next stage of the programme, creating individual development plans.

The results of the survey are absolutely fascinating and hugely informative. The vast majority of individual results from our girls show that they all have specific areas in which they are already flourishing but every pupil also had areas in which they can improve identified. 

The results the pupils receive are taken directly from their own answers, as opposed to the results the senior pastoral leads see, which protects the pupils from comparing themselves against average scores. 

Our senior pastoral leads, supported by our PSHE team and form tutors, are now in the process of meeting with the girls individually to discuss the next steps, arrange necessary actions and to set targets. Each feedback session has been timetabled to fit in with the individual pupil’s own timetables, making effective use of tutor time, PSHE time and boarding time. Feedback so far has revealed that the girls feel positive about their goal setting – a firm foundation on which to build.

The Flourishing at School survey has been absolutely invaluable in helping us to identify pupils that appear to be coping well but would clearly benefit from additional support in certain areas. This has enabled us to rethink how we see our pupils and it is a clear demonstration of how teenagers can successfully mask underlying issues.

Marina Gardiner Legge

We have also been able to look for patterns across year groups and we are currently planning a variety of targeted interventions for certain groups to help them flourish.

It has been very encouraging to have been contacted by so many other schools interested in the Flourishing at School programme and we are now planning a Flourishing Conference and network for Flourishing Schools to work together to share good practice in order to facilitate as many pupils as possible to access  the programme. John Gale has worked with the founder of Flourishing at School, Jason van Schie, for over a year and a half now, bringing the programme to fruition. They have recently spoken to the HMC Wellbeing Committee about promoting the programme to a wider audience. 

We are all aware of the pressures that young women face now, and will continue to face in the future. The Flourishing at Schools programme enables staff and girls to put lifelong strategies in place to manage their own mental health. As a result, Heathfield’s young women are able to face their futures with confidence and resilience knowing they have all the skills they need in order to succeed. 

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