To what extent do our schools promote the wellbeing of all children and young people?
One in eight (12.8%) 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017 (nhs, 2019), suggesting that at some point, it is likely that teachers will experience having someone in their class who is suffering with a mental health challenge - this is worrying. I can’t help but ask myself why?
On Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (last week) @georgemonbiot questioned “since when was GDP a sensible measure of human welfare?” Yet despite this realisation, value continues to be placed on performance over welfare. It is not just within economics that human welfare is second place to results. In education, we already test our pupils at 7 years old, and again at 11 years old. Not to mention the phonics screening test that our 5/6 year old children are assessed on. Now we are introducing a times tables test to assess our 9 year olds. For what purpose? To measure school performance? At what cost? What is this testing doing to our children? What is it doing to our teachers, who are already working close to capacity? It is vital that we think about our children. How are we ensuring that we are fostering the whole child when we are being asked to test, test, test? Tests which the school is ultimately judged on. No matter how educators try to mask it, pupils feel the stress, they pick up on it from their parents and their over worked teachers. No matter the teacher’s values or the school’s ethos, some of the best teachers in Education have likely succumb to the pressures of securing good results for the school - sometimes by teaching to the test.
Is our education system adding to the mental health problem among young people? Or worse, negatively impacting everyone within the system?
In November last year, the Government released the ‘mental health and behaviour in schools’ guidance. Isn’t this a total contradiction of what is being promoted within our relentless testing culture and obsessive focus on league tables? How can we foster the development of the whole child if we are so concerned with monitoring school performance in this way? We need to redefine what a successful school looks like. Is success really churning out 98% of a cohort at (combined) age related expectations, achieved by stressed children, who see themselves defined by their results, with little capacity for managing their emotions? Or could success be defined as: all children having experienced a child centred curriculum that has fostered confidence, resilience and positive behaviour for learning; a curriculum that promotes a culture where children recognise their strengths and areas for development? Why do we judge the success of schools through testing and inspections anyway? Is it to put our country on top of education league tables across the world? To show our superiority on the global stage once again?
In education, every second matters; every moment is an opportunity to learn - an opportunity to engage pupils with awe and wonder. That doesn’t seem to matter to a Government who are fixated on results, and who are custodians of a broken system, which shows no signs of improving in the near future. Testing only serves as a tool to analyse school performance, and this is arguably at the detriment of pupils’ wellbeing.
The NHS have already declared a rise in mental health concerns among children, and an increase in mental health challenges among adults. Could this be because we are not teaching children to manage their feelings and emotions effectively? Could it be that pressured teachers are too busy opening up pupils’ heads and pouring in knowledge - to which pupils respond “Why do I need to know this? I have an iPhone.” - instead of allowing pupils to thrive as themselves, exploring and creating independently.
Let’s be honest, under pressure, one of the first things to be dropped in our education system are subjects that foster children’s SMSC (Social, Moral, Spiritual, Cultural) development. The things that provide our children with the tools they need to understand and respect themselves and others.
Surely the focus needs to be more on the skills for managing complicated thoughts and feelings that arise from being a human being and a 21st century citizen.
When will we start working together to be part of the cure?