The wellbeing of students at Wellington College is as important as their academic success, which is why Sir Anthony Seldon has invested so much in the development of the school’s “Eight Aptitudes”.
“At Wellington, we do not ask: “how intelligent is this child”, but rather, in what ways is this child intelligent? For all children are intelligent and they are intelligent in many different ways. We believe that everyone possesses eight intelligences or aptitudes: Moral, Spiritual, Logical, Linguistic, Physical, Cultural, Social and Personal.”
These aptitudes are similar to our own model of intelligences, though we include the “animal-like” intelligence of instinct – of not thinking, of reaction and the ability to control that reaction. The “logic” and “linguistic” aptitude is part of what we would call “intellect” with “cultural” being part of personal and social intelligence.
If all children and young people were afforded an education that genuinely considered all of these intelligences and aptitudes, then we may have very different outcomes for all our young people, and not just those of parents who can afford to send them to schools like Wellington College.
However, we’re in a system where the intellect counts most, even though the CBI and others are clearly saying that intellect is not always enough. Health professionals would go further and say that we are in grave danger of damaging our children, almost irrevocably, if we don’t address the key issue of the mental health of our youngsters.
Sir Anthony Seldon knows the problem. In his interview with Michael Gove, he clearly insinuated in his questioning that academic rigor could have come at a hefty price – with little or no personal and social development in many of our schools – and what was the Secretary of State going to do to address this imbalance. Yet, Sir Anthony is in the same situation as all head teachers in the country, whether they are heads of fee-paying or state schools. Exams count. League tables equate to coffers. High grade GCSEs and A-Levels are effectively the sole judgement as to whether a school is “outstanding”, good, indifferent or worse.
Here’s another extract from the Wellington College website, http://www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/2165/our-vision/eight-aptitudes
“The point of an eight aptitude focus in the Wellington education is to delight in the various ways in which we experience the world around us and develop as individuals. Whilst each aptitude can be considered individually, we are often more interested in the way that they meet. It is often in the surprising moments: the consideration of morality on the rugby pitch, or the awareness of beauty in a maths class, that the greatest illumination comes.”
This is what we want for all of our children and young people but so many of them need a helping hand to “experience the world around us and develop as individuals”, and so many are all too familiar with difficulties that hinder their experience in this world. In fact, for some, their world isn’t a particularly nice place. Living in the now, as we so frequently advocate, isn’t a place that they want to be.
In the Guardian, this week, there was an article by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett that reiterated what Professor Tanya Byron said at the Festival of Education – our children are suffering, and we are leaving more and more of them with nobody to talk to.
“What do you do if, aged 12, you find yourself feeling hopeless and terrified of the world around you? To whom do you turn? ……………………… help is still not forthcoming. Those who work with children know this, and have been calling urgently for an overhaul of mental health services”.
Professor Byron said that it wasn’t just the “usual suspects” who were turning up at her clinics with serious problems that require psychiatric help. The stress that our young people face through exams, through marketed body-images, through being stymied in their own individual learning, through marital break-ups and relationships problems is as prevalent in the affluent as it is for those in poverty. Those who are less wealthy have the additional causal factors of depression, such as poor housing, low self-aspiration, lack of space in their own home to name but a very few. They also may not have the economic back-up or the know-how to connect with mental health organisations and services.
Tanya Byron went on to give some alarming statistics.
- 6% of the nation’s mental health budget is spent of children’s services for mental health (CAMHS)
- 50% of mental health problems are shown (not necessarily diagnosed) by the age of 14
- 75% of all mental health problems, excluding dementia, are evident at the end of puberty
- If we spent £1 at the time when intervention was needed, i.e. at the age of 14, we could save £84 of adult intervention
- 65% increase in self-harm in our A&E departments
- 75% of local authorities aren’t using mental health data (or don’t have it written down) to commission services
She also said that there was a trend in the “super bright” (highly intellectual) who say they don’t know how to cope with anxiety, and that these anxieties were extremely complex.
In a recent survey on behalf of the National Union of Students (NUS), 92% of young people identified as having “mental distress” with 1 in 5 saying they thought they had a mental illness.
(More on this particular story in a subsequent post).
Professor Byron said that she was concerned about education policy, particularly the narrowing of the curricula definition. The pressure on young people was extreme and signs of breakdown were often going unnoticed. She said we were losing opportunities for creativity and for playing outdoors, that we are not working with children and young people to build up their emotional resilience and that our children were “overscheduled” and “over-managed”.
All of these issues that we’ve posted on at length on this website. We concur completely with what she said, and yet, here we are, all agreeing and all realising there’s a serious issue – a time bomb ready to explode, and what are we able to do about it?
The answer isn’t entirely down to the schools, of course, but there is far more that could be done.
Prevention is one way of tackling these issues before they arise. Assertion is another.
Ian Morris, Head of Wellbeing at Wellington College, made a significant point in the afternoon session on mental health. He said that some schools think that PSHE is the answer, but he felt that many PSHE lessons were extremely negative – don’t smoke, don’t eat fatty foods, don’t have sex – all messages conveyed to young people without giving them the skills, attitudes and aptitude to cope with certain situations.
His (and ours) notion of PSHE is to be far more assertive and positive about life – to prepare young people for being young people!
Good PSHE should be positive. It should prevent and also assert, and if more schools and school managers followed a positive preventative policy for wellbeing, such as that advocated by Wellington College, then we could have a situation where children and young people do know who to talk to, do know where to turn and do manage their stressful lives before significant CAMHS intervention is required.
Of course, none of this will happen until there is a drastic policy change on the aims of education, driven by a Department of Education that fully acknowledges the wellbeing of the young is as important as their academic success. As we have said before, even if our governments are merely driven by economic priorities – as is frequently cited by Gove re the global economic race to the top – then this should be enough to put some money, effort and time into addressing mental health in schools, and out of them too.