Delivery of an effective PSHE programme leads to a more caring and cohesive culture at school says Helen Keevil, newly appointed Deputy Head Pastoral at Abingdon and Designated Safeguarding Lead.

“There is compelling evidence that when taught well, PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) education, helps to keep our young people safe, physically and mentally healthy and prepared for life at school and beyond. After the Black Lives Matter movement and Everyone’s Invited, PSHE became a statutory requirement in all schools, rather than just the independent sector. The significance of this cannot be underestimated. At the time, I was pastoral and mental health lead at Epsom College and despite the fact we already had a comprehensive PSHE offering in place, we felt we needed a full academic review to accurately gauge how these topics featured across our curriculum in order to ensure both that we were compliant but also that we were educating our young people on these really important topical issues. In order to maximise student engagement, I trained senior students to help deliver part of the PSHE course to our younger pupils in collaboration with a drugs and alcohol foundation charity; explored gender bias in our setting (and in wider society) educating students on consent, sexuality and redefining masculinity in schools; as well as designing a pupil voice survey so that our young people felt consulted and very much an important part of the process. The impact of these initiatives lead to a 24% reduction in behavioural sanctions, fewer incidents of conflict between peers and a more caring, cohesive culture. It also showed that, whilst we should place value on tradition, we must not be afraid to adapt, evolve and adjust to new priorities. Challenging ourselves and others in the language we use or the approach we take should not be stigmatised but revered as being a natural part of a progressive society. Since joining Abingdon as Deputy Head (Pastoral) in September, I have been so impressed by the polite, articulate, kind and courageous students that I have encountered. Each one is passionate about wanting to make a positive difference to the world. The opportunities to do so, through Abingdon’s extensive and enviable Other Half programme, sees its young people actively engage in partnership activities, mentoring, charity fundraising, debating or being part of one of the many impactful committees – such as the eco or equalities committee. Acceptance of individual views is praised within Abingdon and students can feel a real sense of worth from getting involved and seeing that they can make a difference.

“Of course one of the most topical elements of PSHE, especially in our post-Covid environment, is the positive mental health of our young people. Worryingly, statistics show that young people are grappling more and more with anxiety and stress. In addition to the process of adolescence itself, we know that students feel increasingly pressurised as a result of exams, social media, environmental crises and the economic climate. Some of this pressure may also be being felt by the adults in their lives who unwittingly could also be passing on their own anxieties to their children. This means that now, more than ever, schools need to be proactively helping young people with their mental health. At Abingdon, we are fortunate to have a dedicated mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator who delivers talks, advice and strategies – both to students and their parents. We also have an onsite counselling team who are available to the students but also to our staff. My 4 year old dog, Luna, is also a calming influence. Trained as a Pets As Therapy dog, she helps to support students and staff when they are feeling anxious, lonely or sad. She can be found in the library once a week, strolling with me around the school campus during lunch and break times and she is always there to welcome visitors to my study! Finally, students also have the ability, through our extracurricular offering, to take part in activities such as ceramics, drama and yoga which can help individuals to calmly focus, breathe and channel their energy; and our brilliant staff also introduce mindfulness to their lessons. Our hope is that, with this level of support, young people can find the help they need whenever they start to feel overwhelmed.”

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