Accentuating the positive

Schools need to take a positive approach to the welfare and wellbeing of their pupils, says Trent College deputy head

A Long Eaton senior teacher believes schools need to look towards ‘Positive Education’ after a new report found the number of schoolgirls at risk of emotional problems has risen sharply. The study in the Journal of Adolescent Health compared the responses of 1,600 pupils aged 11-13 in 2009 to 2014, and found a 7 percent spike in girls reporting emotional issues while boys’ answers remained fairly stable.

Magnus Cowie, deputy head (pastoral) at Trent College, said these latest findings are in keeping with other worrying trends in teenage welfare, including an alarming increase in mental health problems amongst young people, with self-harm amongst young people in the UK now amongst the highest in Europe.

Last December Cowie visited Geelong Grammar School near Melbourne in Australia, a leading school in the ‘Positive Education’ movement. The school has worked closely with the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, where the movement was founded. He says that this visit reaffirmed his belief that schools must be creative in taking responsibility for teenage wellbeing and nurturing a cooperative environment in which students thrive: “The need for us to look at alternative models of education is apparent from the current social backdrop within our country. There are many worrying aspects regarding the health of our nation, including obesity, eating disorders and increasing instances of mental health problems. 

“The strain on the welfare system in this country is apparent in virtually every newspaper we read. Anyone that follows current affairs will be aware of the desperate shortage of capacity within CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) and how the increasing demand just cannot be met.

“It would be easy to despair over the future, but that is all the more reason to address wellbeing within schools. My visit to Geelong Grammar School gave me a fascinating insight into how a school in a very different environment has phased in the key elements to build character, confidence and resilience in their pupils.”

Speaking to the BBC in the wake of the Journal of Adolescent Health report, researcher Dr Helen Sharpe, of University College London, said: ‘In a climate of limited resources, it is also possible teachers may focus more on behavioural and conduct issues as these tend to disrupt classrooms.’

Cowie agrees and argues that pupils ‘positive’ contributions can come through leading clubs and societies, organising charities or charity events, establishing or contributing to community services or simply being good active citizens. He also stressed the benefits of having small tutor groups – providing time to support individual pupils, an extensive welfare team to help with complex situations, a pro-active PSHE programme, real quality and breadth of extra-curricular provision and giving pupils a voice in all aspects of school management and development.

He added: “Positive psychology can play a significant part in cultivating environments to bring out what is best within individuals and others all around them. This serves the school well, as it delivers wellbeing, happiness and high achievement; it serves the individuals well, as they lead meaningful and fulfilling lives; and it serves society as the school and all within its community make constructive contributions. 

“We look forward with confidence and excitement to incorporating the science of positive psychology to further improve the educational experience and outcomes for our students, confident in the knowledge that we have an extremely strong foundation on which to build.”

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