An Australian mental health and wellbeing programme has had its UK launch at Heathfield independent girls’ school, Ascot, where it forms part of a positive approach to help students develop the ‘pillars’ of good mental health to stay well and optimise quality of life.
Rather than identifying those in distress or ‘at risk’, the ‘Flourishing at School’ programme aims to improve positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaningfulness and accomplishment. It also promotes physical health through sport, nutrition, fitness and sleep.
Based on the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, the programme is consistent with the Geelong Grammar School Model for Positive Education (2013). Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, Australia, has an “enviable reputation as a pioneer of modern education and is considered the number one school in the world for pastoral care”. The programme has since been endorsed by universities throughout Australia and picked up by other private and state schools thanks to a growing interest in the positive education agenda there.
Heathfield’s new Director of Boarding, John Gale, came across Flourishing at School when he was looking for something to establish a baseline for mental health and emotional issues for new international pupils at his previous school, but it was never introduced. Convinced of its potential as a primary intervention for all students, John spoke to Heathfield Head Teacher, Marina Gardiner Legge, who agreed. Together with Director of Pastoral and Co-Curricular Activities, Kathryn de Ferrer, the trio put things in motion.
“This is a primary level intervention to make sure our pupils are mentally fit and healthy, rather than our reacting to a problem occurring later on.’
Every girl at the school will complete an online survey over the next few weeks, which takes less than 15 minutes. The results are scrutinised and an individual plan is created for every girl, regardless of her ‘score’, which is shared with her.
“The results show us where our pupils are already flourishing, and also identify any areas that need further development,” said John. “This will help our girls to develop high levels of mental health strength to deal with problems and issues in a positive way, so that they are well-equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of current society. When mental health is flourishing you are better able to deal with problems or issues and develop resilience and grit.
“This is a primary level intervention to make sure our pupils are mentally fit and healthy, rather than our reacting to a problem occurring later on. It is particularly useful in a boarding school, where we have such prolonged periods of contact with pupils, including involvement in their sleep and nutrition.
“We get the results immediately and even where they show that a girl is flourishing it gives advice on maintenance and further improvement. The same programme allows us to analyse the quality of the school’s wellbeing and mental health interventions and where we need to develop further.”
Heathfield is the first school in both the UK and Europe to introduce Flourishing at School, but John and Jason van Schie (the founder of Flourishing at School) recently spoke to the HMC Wellbeing Committee, who “showed a great deal of interest in promoting the programme to a wider audience”.