The school where yoga, meditation and relationships are part of the curriculum
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Ask any teenager what they worry about and they will no doubt say homework, relationships, exams, friends, parents, peer pressure and image. So far, so normal - the usual angst and drama of growing up.
Image credit: Wrekin College
Now add in the additional pressures caused by managing an online life via mobile phones, social media and gaming platforms, and many young people say that feel they are at breaking point.
A recent NHS survey found that one in four people on average experience a mental health problem, with the majority of these beginning in childhood or early adolescence. In recognition of this the Education Secretary, Damien Hinds, has announced plans to introduce mindfulness, breathing and relaxation exercises into school in England to teach children about the importance of looking after their mental health. A major shake-up to the curriculum means that online trolling, relationships and the importance of sleep will be included in lessons.
Whilst the government’s desire to recognise and improve the well being of young people is to be applauded, many schools have already been delivering these types of lessons for years.
Wrekin College, a co-educational boarding school in Shropshire, already offers students lessons in happiness. Kirsty Davies, the school's Director of Wellbeing, says that Wrekin has ‘evolved its pastoral care to reflect the constantly changing pressures of modern life’. She adds that ‘if students are happy then they will get the best out of what is available to them and achieve their potential.’
All students at Wrekin attend lessons in dealing with friendships, being kind to themselves and each other, and how to deal with issues and challenges in a positive way. At the core of the curriculum is recognising how to manage emotions and develop skills in self-reflection.
Older students are taught how to prepare for the world of work, including interview techniques, and how to achieve a work-life balance as well as practical life skills. The content of lessons is devised by staff in collaboration with the students. Also involved are members of the wider community, including Community Support Officers and governors, who share their expertise, as well as ex-students who give talks on their careers.
In addition, students can choose to attend a ten-week mindfulness course run by Kirsty, who has trained with MiSP. Students say that they find they have found the mindfulness sessions very helpful and that they are more organised and feel less stressed. One student described how she now feels she has ‘space to breathe’. Prior to the sessions she felt overwhelmed by all she had to do and would bury her head in the sand and watch Netflix – she now feels more confident to face her issues and has the strategies to prioritise and face difficulties.
The changing structure in the way students are examined at A-level and GCSE, with the removal of coursework, has led to students feeling an increased pressure to ‘get it
Happiness, says Kirsty, is not just found in academic success, and students are encouraged to try new things and take part in sporting activities that promote physical wellbeing. A broad offering allows the students to find their strengths outside traditional school sports of rugby and cross country, with kickboxing and snowboarding lessons being where some students have skills and confidence. Yoga and meditation classes are also popular.
A cross-government mental health strategy states that "by promoting good mental health and intervening early, particularly in the crucial childhood and teenage years, we can help to prevent mental illness from developing and mitigate its effects when it does... Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness but rather it is the presence of emotional well-being." A child’s school years are crucial in establishing life-long wellbeing.
It is all very well the government introducing new ideas and initiatives to schools but if we want to prepare young people for the challenges and pressure of modern life - all schools must receive the help, support and funding that they need to be able to offer all students the opportunities that are available to those who attend Wrekin College. That way we can future proof the next generation and ensure that they become useful members of society.
Lead image credit: Wrekin College