Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 regularly has features on education, children, wellbeing and mental health. This morning was no exception. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and Woman’s Hour ran a very good piece on the work that Place2Be does in schools, a charity that works with children who struggle with their personal, social and emotional development and are often categorised as having “behavioural difficulties”.
In the introduction to the piece it was stated that at least 1 in 10 young people between the ages of 12 to 18 face mental health issues. Some of us who have had dealings with teenagers might put the figure somewhat higher.
We found the piece informative, and we’re great supporters of the work that Place2Be does with young people in schools. We need to take issue, however, with the programme suggesting that schools are burdened by having to “focus on behaviour difficulties, not teaching and learning”. Focusing on children’s need for personal, social, spiritual and emotional learning is the very essence of their learning for very many of our children, and not just those who struggle with ‘behavioural difficulties’. Do we even consider how many of the more introverted children are quietly and unobtrusively suffering agonies internally as a result of personal, social and emotional conflicts, or spiritual crises?
PSHE is still not a statutory “subject” and so it’s usually not seen as part of the school’s “teaching and learning” – as a part of the school curriculum. Yet how often is the school’s ethos and the school’s determination to “drive up standards” (translation: improve scores in high stakes timed tests) part of children’s mental health problems? We see more and more instances in the mainstream media of children saying they can’t cope with their school’s academic demands, with doing badly in tests, with their piles of homework, with tiredness and exhaustion. Let alone cope with loneliness, with friendship issues, with social media, with their parents and siblings.
We’ve said for years in our various blog posts that children and young people have the right to a broad and balanced curriculum that includes a substantial element of learning across all of their intelligences – personal, social, intellectual, instinctual, physical and spiritual. We believe that they have the need and the right to become emotionally intelligent – through having these intelligences developed as fully as possible in order for them to work harmoniously together.
In schools where this broad and balanced learning takes place (or in schools where the students’ parents are able to facilitate this learning at home) we see relatively few “behavioural difficulties”. This is not to say there aren’t regular incidents and upsets – which are inevitable as part of children and especially teenagers being in close contact with one another. What we see in those schools, however, are children who are more likely to resist the urge to “flight or fight”, and children who are more in control of their destructive emotions, because the school has taken the time and trouble to TEACH self awareness, social awareness and coping strategies. We see children with higher levels of self confidence as well as self awareness; with higher levels of empathy, with stronger friendships; with a greater understanding of their own and other people’s feelings and emotions.
So – thank you BBC and Radio 4 for more serious discussions and features on young people, their education and their mental health. Let’s continue to press for PSHE to be at the centre of “teaching and learning” and not something that’s on the periphery of what happens in schools, or else simply non-existent.
Children’s Mental Health Week – Action Not Polemics
Natasha Devon and Children’s Mental Health
Managing Mental Health and Children Self-Harming
Mental Wellbeing – the Need for Personal and Social Development
Mental Health Awareness Week – Relationships and Knowing Yourself
Life Lessons: Education Select Committee Report on PSHE and SRE
Life Lessons: Personal and Social Development, and the Rights of the Child
Life Lessons: Conclusions and Recommendations on the Purpose of PSHE and SRE
Act Now for the Rights of the Child
What is Education For?
The Real Obstacles to Statutory Status for PSHE Education