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So what do you have in mind? Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 18 January 2017

January 18, 2017

Our new term is well under way along with a new calendar year. Our weekly whole-school assembly theme has centered on how best to control our emotions as we meet the inevitable ‘highs and lows’ of school (and home) life. We have been using the story from the Pixar movie, Inside Out, first released in 2015, which tells of Riley, a young girl who moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her family. Riley experiences homesickness, loss of friends and status and her mind is in turmoil as Joy, Sadness, Distrust, Anger and Fear struggle to control her emotions.

In addition to considering how Riley manages at a time of personal upheaval, we have also been considering the Old Testament story of Joseph (of ‘technicolour dreamcoat’ fame). Here is a young man who was sold into slavery by his brothers, assumed to be dead by his parents, mistreated in the home of Potiphar and thrown into prison in Egypt before eventually winning a place in Pharaoh’s court. Joseph’s emotions were also in turmoil but somehow he managed to keep things in perspective, accept his lot in life but not be satisfied with leaving things as they were and in time overcoming all odds through helping others and keeping a balance in his emotions (and experiencing God’s help).

Part of what has been driving my thinking in preparing for these assemblies has been the focus in the Press over several months about mental health. Just today we can see articles in three separate newspapers on this theme.

In The Independent whilst we note Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge of greater support for pupils’ mental health, calls have also been voiced for a similar pledge for teachers. Mike Kane, shadow minister for Schools, said: “We are seeing a huge exodus from the profession because of the workload and the stress.” He added: “More work needs to done to alleviate the weight of expectation that is being placed on individual teachers.”

In a letter to the Times, former Children’s Commissioner for England Sir Al Aynsley-Green urges the Government to acknowledge that education policies which focus on exams and league tables may be driving up levels of stress among youngsters, adding to the mental health issues its new pledges seek to ease. In a separate letter to the same paper, William Goldsmith, head of Fife’s St Leonards Junior School, calls for mental health support to stretch to the primary sector, saying it is “imperative” that staff are given the resources to identify the early signs of mental health issues.

Helen Gilbert in the Sun looks at how mindfulness can be used in schools in a bid to relieve stress youngsters face, including that linked to exams. She notes that over 4,000 UK teachers are qualified in classroom mindfulness, with every tutor at Reigate Grammar in Surrey trained to help children focus on their breathing.

Here at Ballard we are also running a ‘mindfulness’ course. This is being supported financially by one of our school associations, the ISA, and currently a group of teachers are attending – and we are familiar at Ballard with staff facing stress and mental health issues. The intention is to roll the course out for parents later this year and to use the training to help our young people cope with the stresses and strains they face daily.

So, what we have in mind is a combination of approaches including ‘mindfulness’, our extensive pastoral care approach, the holistic and family emphasis in the school, our Christian ethos and our assemblies. It seems that the latter occasionally ‘hits the spot’. One Y11 boy sent me a Christmas card wishing me a good Christmas break and concluded, ‘thank you for making our assemblies so exciting’. The adventures of Riley – and of Joseph – are set to continue!

Alastair Reid

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.


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