Wellbeing for Education Return at Bracknell Forest
Innovate Psychology has been collaborating with Bracknell Forest Educational Psychology Service (EPS) during the pandemic as a ‘local expert’ -to help educate school staff in supporting the wellbeing and mental health needs of returning pupils.
The collaboration is part of the Department for Education (DfE) funded Wellbeing for Education Return national programme that aims to boost pupil and teacher wellbeing.
As children and young people return to class this week, Bracknell Forest EPS’ Senior Educational Psychologist, Janet Bento and Innovate Psychology’s Principal Educational Psychologist, Nicola Lawrence discuss the value of the programme.
1. What is Wellbeing for Education Return?
Well being for Education Return is a national programme that was developed and funded by the DfE in partnership with other government departments and an expert advisory group (including the Anna Freud Centre and Mind-Ed). The aim of the programme was to improve how schools respond to the emotional impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their students and staff.
A training package was provided which covered a whole school approach to well being through easily understood psychological education. Its purpose was to support recovery for members of the school community who may have experienced bereavement, stress, trauma or anxiety because of the pandemic. School staff were given tools to help them recognise, understand, and respond appropriately to signs of poor wellbeing or mental health. They were also given the confidence to support their colleagues, children and young people, and their parents and carers.
2. How was the Wellbeing for Education Return programme delivered in Bracknell Forest?
The programme was delivered by different professionals across UK but mainly Educational Psychologists. This is because Educational Psychologists have the required knowledge and skills base as well as established relationships with schools. Innovate Psychology and Bracknell Forest Educational Psychology Service (EPS) collaborated as the identified ‘local experts*’ to devise a localised version of the training package for implementation in Bracknell Forest schools.
Senior school leaders and pastoral staff received the training through interactive webinars. These were designed to also be shared more widely within their school or college. Feedback received from attendees was used to devise targeted follow up webinars that were most relevant to the local community. These included specific psychological models and approaches to support staff wellbeing and to work effectively with anxious parents.
3. What has been the impact of the programme?
The programme in Bracknell Forest was received positively, particularly the focus on specific issues pertinent to the local community. School staff have learned how to respond to bereavement and have been given the opportunity to reflect upon whole school approaches to supporting wellbeing.
It was difficult to ascertain the impact of the initial training and ongoing webinars/support due the additional lockdown and need for further waves of training. However, the numbers of attendees at follow-up webinars and ongoing conversations between EPs and link schools, indicate the desire for ongoing training and support in this area. Schools have had to adapt continually over the past year to fit with frequently changing social distancing rules and government advice. They are now experiencing a further change with the return of all pupils this week (8th March). This will again enable the implementation of structures and processes to support the wellbeing of children, young people, and school staff. The impact of these systems will only be seen over time.
4. What’s next for Wellbeing for Education?
Themes which emerged during the training, and in the wider work that Educational Psychologists carry out in schools, indicate that schools staff remain concerned about significant numbers of pupils. This seems to be about children having difficulties with emotional, cognitive, and sensory ‘regulation’. They are concerned about settling back in after what has been a very disruptive year to their education, social relationships and routines. Many children have experienced these losses alongside bereavements of loved ones and teaching staff. A number will return with significant emotional needs and learning delays.
This last year has led to the idea of whole school wellbeing having much greater prominence. The hopes are that this will have a long-lasting positive impact on school communities and the development of children and young people.
Schools have worked tirelessly to adapt to frequently changing circumstances and to ensure that children, young people, and families are supported emotionally as well as academically.
However, alongside the wellbeing agenda, there is the competing message of academic attainment and standards. Not only will teachers continue to deliver the full curriculum at the usual pace, they must also support children to ‘catch up’. Managing the wellbeing of children might feel like an additional burden at this pressured time, yet we know that what they need is nurture, play and socialisation.
The message that a whole school approach to wellbeing actually enhances academic progress is one that needs to be reinforced with policymakers. Only then will systems and expectations can change so that holistic child development is at the forefront of the DfE/government agenda.
Janet Bento, Senior Educational Psychologist, Bracknell Forest Educational Psychology Service
Nicola Lawrence, Principal Educational Psychologist, Innovate Psychology
* Local experts: professionals who have experience of delivering mental health training and working with education settings to meet the needs of children and young people. They should ideally have a clear understanding of local issues and the ability to discuss, support, and signpost education leads to appropriate local services. Including those with existing experience of delivering training in education settings, and potentially trauma and bereavement specialists.