At Bedales Prep and Pre-prep, wellbeing is at the heart of everything we do to ensure we nurture and nourish our pupils so they thrive to be able to be the best version of themselves. We passionately believe that a child will successfully achieve self-actualisation when teachers, pupils and parents work in unison and are on the same team, the team of the child. Our children are not born with a manual, and even if they were, I’m sure it would have been ripped up and thrown out of the window at the first parenting hurdle!
This term, Dunhurst’s Head of Wellbeing Debs Baty has introduced parent workshops. They are a safe space for parents to come together, have a coffee and share thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. They are a supportive space where parents can ask for advice or simply hear other parents who are in the same boat as them. Somehow, it’s quite reassuring to hear that you are not the only one having trouble with a particular area of parenting.
Debs has three teenagers of her own and has worked in boarding schools for the whole of her career, starting as a nursery teacher to three-year-olds and working in a sixth form boarding house. Debs doesn’t have all the answers, but she is passionate about supporting parents on the road to creating happy, healthy children ready for life in the 21st century.
‘Let’s talk about…’ is a series of workshops that covers important stages and common issues in parenting life, whether a first time parent or not. The course aims to give parents information and step-by-step tools to create a happy home life, to manage those every day hotspots, like morning routines and sibling squabbles, and to help their children thrive.
Some of the workshops from the Autumn term include:
Child Development – building an understanding of the developmental drives of childhood and how to use this knowledge to meet the social and emotional needs of your child.
Motivation – learn how to motivate your child in ways which encourage cooperation and, allows them to fulfil their potential and build resilience.
Communication with children – learn how communication can be used to build strong relationships, help children manage difficult feelings, increase cooperation and build a culture of mutual respect.
Boundaries – strategies to help you set effective boundaries, which help children feel safe, and solve recurring problematic behaviour.
At Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, pupils will mark Mental Health Awareness Week with a Pupil Voice Conference on the topic of this year’s theme – loneliness. Like Bedales Senior, where the School Council was one of the first in the country when it was established in 1916, Dunhurst has a long tradition of listening to pupils’ views. Today, empowering children to find their voice and put forward their views is just one of the school’s initiatives designed to support pupils’ wellbeing and mental health – but it is far from a tick-box exercise. At Dunhurst, the wellbeing of its pupils is at the heart of everything the school does.
It is especially noticeable at this time of year, when most prep school pupils around the country are preparing themselves to sit the Common Entrance exam. Head of Dunhurst Colin Baty considers Common Entrance “an antiquated way to select” and cites evidence around adolescent mental health as a reason to exercise caution when forcing prep school children to jump through such hoops in preparation for senior school. As such, Dunhurst pupils do not sit the Common Entrance exam – and instead use the time to head off on ‘Camps Week’, a whole school residential trip to different areas of the UK, where they take part in a plethora of outdoor activities, including mountain biking, moor walking, cycling, kayaking and horse riding. As Dunhurst’s Deputy Head (Pastoral) Graeme Thompson explains: “We give our pupils the space and time to grow. Each child experiences childhood at their own pace.”
Camps Week is an example of pupils’ access to green and blue spaces – such as parks, meadows, woods, rivers, lakes and sea – which, as studies show, have a positive, immediate and long-lasting effect on people’s health and wellbeing. At Dunhurst, however, pupils don’t need to leave the school grounds to access green spaces; the school, along with Bedales’ senior and pre-prep schools, is set in 120 acres of South Downs National Park, and pupils are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Uniquely, the school’s Outdoor Work curriculum – a core subject which incorporates nature and conservation, horticulture, animal husbandry, bushcraft and country crafts – enables pupils to develop an awareness, appreciation and knowledge of the natural environment in line with Bedales’ founder John Badley’s original aims, whilst developing self-confidence, passion, empathy and teamwork.
As part of the curriculum, Dunhurst pupils are actively involved in the care of the Outdoor Work department’s chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and bees, and there are opportunities to feed and care for other livestock on the Bedales estate, including pigs, sheep, goats and ponies. But interaction with animals – which is proven to have a calming and de-stressing effect – isn’t limited to the school farm. As a dog friendly school, staff dogs – or the ‘pastoral pups’ as they are affectionately known – are a familiar fixture. From Colin’s Goldendoodle to the boarding house’s resident Black Labrador, the dogs are an integral part of school life and provide pupils with an array of cognitive, social, emotional, physical and environmental benefits.
Fundamental to Dunhurst’s approach to wellbeing is relationships, which is ingrained in Bedales’ distinctive ethos. The school’s founding motto, ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’, may be over 100 years old, but it hasn’t faded in relevance. “The school motto underpins everything we do,” says Head of Wellbeing Debbie Baty. “Every pupil has the right to enjoy a childhood at school, but this right comes with a responsibility to be a positive influence within the Dunhurst jigsaw.” The ethos offers opportunities for pupils to support fellow pupils – for instance, peer to peer listeners, known at Dunhurst as ‘RAKtivators’, promote ‘Random Acts of Kindness’.
In contrast with other schools, staff and pupils address each other by first names, and pupils shake the hands of all staff after assemblies and talks – features of a culture that values the individual and celebrates relationships with one another and the school. Such an approach allows for a closer collaborative relationship between teachers and pupils, and this collegiate approach is extended to parents through three-way communication between teachers, parents and pupils known as the ‘Dunhurst triangle’. Debbie has recently launched a ‘Let’s talk about…’ series for parents, which will focus on teenagers’ development as well as sharing the content of pupils’ Wellbeing lessons, which supports and teaches skills to enable children to increase their awareness of emotional health and wellbeing.
Whilst wellbeing is at the heart of everything Dunhurst does, it isn’t at the expense of academic success. In fact, Deputy Head (Academic) Andy Wiggins says: “It’s always been borne out, year after year, when we look at how Dunhurstians perform when they take their GCSEs and A Levels, and compare them with students who have been academically ‘hot housed’. Time and time again, Dunhurstians prove that they get comparative or better results – and they’ve had a much richer, holistic experience.”
By Ana Simmons, Head of Lower School and Acting Designated Safeguarding Lead
Over the last few years the UK’s internet use has surged as coronavirus saw a change in the way in which we all communicated; nationally Snapchat, Tiktok, Instagram, YouTube became key in how many people kept in touch and remained informed.
Using the internet safely and positively is a key message that we promote and actively work with the students on across all three schools at Bedales. This week many schools and youth organisations across the UK celebrated Safer Internet Day and for us the day gave us a chance to reflect upon how we emphasise the online safety messages and education we deliver throughout the year.
We all play a crucial role in empowering and supporting young people to use digital technologies responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. At school, we have released a newly issued Digital Safety Policy, now viewable on the Parent Portal, which captures how we ensure that all pupils are educated about and protected from potential harm online.
As ever, creating an open dialogue with students on how we use the internet is vital in supporting their online lives. Some resources which you may find helpful as parents in having these discussions with your child about their online usage are:
Information and reporting of online grooming or abuse from CEOP
And as ever, please do get in touch with Houseparents or myself, as the Designated Safeguarding Lead whilst Jen is on maternity leave, should you have any concerns or questions over how the internet is being used within the Bedales community.
Positive use of social media is to be welcomed and students are aware that finding your passion and playing/creating sound can have a positive effect on our emotional health and wellbeing.
To this end, Graduation Records are offering Bedales students the opportunity to combine both interests and make some music.This is an exclusive competition for Bedales: Create a Tik Tok video with the theme ‘A day in the Life’ using the song embedded here, using the hashtag #BEDALESTIKTOK
There are prizes for the best submissions from Nando’s, ASOS, Amazon and more. Graduation Records are also offering an additional prize for our independent artists and creatives:
A&R Support (have your recordings listened to and get feedback from leading industry professionals)
Have your latest single pitched to Spotify and Apple Music’s playlist curators for the chance to receive editorial support
Playlists masterclass on Zoom (‘how to get your music heard’)
Have your music pitched to National & Community radio stations for plays across the UK.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, the Health Centre would like to highlight some great resources for children and their parents, ranging from local charities to nationwide organisations.
We recognise that following this last year’s events, everyone is in a different place concerning their mental health and if you are looking for any information on specific conditions, support networks or wellbeing information please look at the websites and phone numbers below. We are always open to be contacted by parents or students for further support or signposting to relevant organisations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young Minds, the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health, has information for parents here. Parents/caregivers can also contact Young Minds via their helpline (0808 802 5544) or by email (email@example.com).
Hope Line UK is a confidential support and advice service for children and young people under the age of 35 who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide. Contact their helpline (0800 068 4141), send a text (07860039967) or email them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sane is a leading mental health charity with a range of information and resources available on their website and a helpline (07984 967708) operated by professionals and trained volunteers.
Rethink is a charity helping to improve the lives of people severely affected by mental illness through our network of local groups, services and expert information.
Mind offers information and support for anyone living with or supporting someone with a mental health condition. Their website includes information for young people aged 11-18 here.
Headspace is an app designed to improve the health and happiness of the world through meditation mindfulness. The app is free to try, and you can subscribe for full access to meditations and mindfulness exercises covering everything from negative self-talk to how to improve motivation.
No Limits is a an award-winning, Hampshire-based, independent charity providing a unique combination of prevention, early intervention and crisis support to young people. Details about their virtual services, drop-ins and support groups can be found on their website.
As Head of Wellbeing I’ve watched and listened with interest to our students’ responses in the aftermath of the Sarah Everard’s killing. I’m so very proud of Block 5 student Bella Cutts who organised the wearing of red for the day to highlight sexual violence experienced by women. Savvy use of social media meant Bella was able to spread the action and schools such as Marlborough, Beneden and Teddies took up the red wearing baton later in the week. Contributions to an art exhibition in the Quad this week were moving, articulate, harrowing and rightly laced with fury. The women of Bedales are formidable.
The voices of our boys and men are vital to social change within the Bedales community and society. It is these voices we now need to advocate, intervene and upstand in support of women. The Wellbeing curriculum challenges the normative binary dialogue surrounding consent, rape culture, pornification and sexism.
The need to do more to reduce violence against women is now widely agreed. But for progress to be made, one of the central issues has to be about men, male attitudes and actions, and what men need to do.
What should men do in these circumstances? “Man’s silence around issues of sexist language and behaviours is of concern,” says Graham Goulden, former policeman and trainer in violence prevention. “Whilst many men as individuals possess healthy views of women, their views on what their friends think is often skewed. Men often misperceive that friends support sexist views which leads to them either joining in or saying nothing. This leads to a perfect storm of non-abusive men doing nothing, and abusive men acting with impunity.”
One fundamental is that men – whether they think of themselves as liberal, progressive or enlightened – need to stop being defensive and making excuses. Educator, filmmaker and author Jackson Katz has worked on gender-based violence and wider inequalities and stresses that men (as well as women) saying “not all men” in debates on male violence are not being constructive. “I keep hearing people saying: ‘Not all men!’ To which I would say: if you have the impulse to say ‘not all men’, don’t. It’s silly, and it’s not a good look.”
This is not just about semantics: “Because, yes, although men are more likely to die violently than women, and yes, not all men are violent, there’s no doubt that the overwhelming majority of violence that happens between the genders happens by men against women. And the vast majority of violence that men suffer is at the hands of other men.”
Men have to recognise and call out sexism in other men. This became – in the work of Katz – known as the ‘bystander principle’, whereby men take responsibility and challenge the problem behaviour of other men; not leaving it to women or leaving it in silence, thinking it can always be passed off as somebody else’s problem.
Men need to think about how to challenge other men, whether it is the jokes that nearly everyone laughs at, and what is called ‘locker room banter’. The first thing that individuals can do is to stop separating the likes of rape and ‘sexist banter’, states Katz. “They are connected and addressing the banter will help reduce the violence we read about in the media. Abusive men often think their attitudes are supported. That needs to change. Men should speak to women in their lives.”
There has to be an understanding that male entitlement and resentment towards women are two sides of the same thing, and that hate, sexism and misogyny are learned behaviour. In the words of Katz, these are reinforced and reproduced by “media culture, sports culture, peer culture and porn culture” until it becomes mainstream and part of the norm of what it is to be a man.
Violence and problematic male behaviour is not just about the individual, but about societal norms and hence it is the responsibility of all of us, and in particular, all men. Silence is not an option but is in reality collusion, it is complicit consent. Women and men need men to have the courage to speak up, to listen to women, and to challenge other men.
Dr Jackson Katz discusses why all men need to be part of ending violence against women, and what they can do to help, listen to the podcast here.
Over time, we have seen the conceptualisation of resilience shift from being a trait – you either have it or you don’t – to a characteristic, something you can change over time that is very internally focused. Ultimately, resilience is a process one has to continuously cultivate. This was the message in Wellbeing lessons before half term.
Nutrition can help you build resilience, so you aren’t as affected by stress and are able to weather the storm when difficulties and struggles come your way. This is a good thing because it means that when it comes to using your diet to up your resilience, you can continually work to improve (and if you decide to have cake for dinner one night, it doesn’t mean you have failed!)
Often I hear students complain of fatigue, poor concentration, low mood, anxiety and sleeplessness; before exploring the wellbeing of their mind, we need to examine their food lifestyle. Potential deficiencies in vitamins and minerals (few adolescents are eating an optimal diet), what they are choosing to eat and drink (see food pyramid below), portion size and timings (breakfast is vital for teenagers) all affect mood, sleep, motivation and wellbeing.
Arming adolescents with nutritional knowledge and the self-awareness of how food affects their bodies and mind is key to building resilience and wellbeing. For further information on diet and nutrition for teenagers, I recommend following The Nutrition Guru, Tina Lond-Caulk. Tina has just released The Teenage Health & Wellness Guide. As well as tasty and nutritious recipes and advice, the book also includes recommendations such as encouraging teenagers to consume a daily quality multivitamin and mineral, and the importance of supplementing vitamin D, magnesium and calcium. The latest scientific research also strongly suggests a link between mind health and gut microbiome; Symprove is an excellent choice of daily probiotic.
If we focus on eating for wellbeing, realise that we can love and take care of ourselves and have self-compassion, and focus on what we’re consuming, we tend to be healthier in both body and mind.
The focus for wellbeing this term is on cultivating resilience, the cornerstone of which is self-awareness. This week, students have completed a wellbeing assessment using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) to measure good wellbeing. The assessment was used to facilitate a discussion about how we need to be using our Wellness Jar to ensure we look after our mental health, which we hope will increase our scores on the WEMWBS when we complete it again in the coming weeks. You might wish to complete the assessment yourself as it could scaffold a reflective, sharing conversation. Access the WEMWBS here.
To aid introspection and develop self-awareness, Blocks 4 and 5 have been practising mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn brought contemporary mindfulness to mainstream medicine and psychology through clinical intervention programmes such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and I trained in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) at the University of Oxford. At Bedales, we are using meditations from Calm. Calm incorporates mindfulness practices from MBSR and MBCT without religious or spiritual discourse; it features meditation for sleep, anxiety, focus, motivation, self-esteem and gratitude, as well as gentle movement, stretching, nature panoramas and music designed to help you focus and relax. Calm provides the structure and guidance necessary to facilitate a daily meditation practice and mindful awareness. There is also an ‘Emergency Calm’ meditation that provides relief for feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.
Students in 6.2 or Block 5 who are about to embark on a week of assessments may wish to consider using Calm’s ‘7 Days of Calming Anxiety’ course, which is available as a free trial on the Calm app. As we have been discussing in Wellbeing lessons, we must all take responsibility for maintaining our mental health and placing self-care alongside our other commitments. Key to resilience is self-awareness of stituations that may ignite stress and/or anxiety, and the actions we take (self-care) to manage them. The ‘7 Days of Calm’ series was a huge help to me and explained to me why we feel anxious, how to pause and feel those thoughts instead of pushing them away. It was insightful and, of course, calming.
In Wellbeing, we are taking the opportunity during online learning to delve into the practical strategies that we should all have in order to cultivate a resilient spirit. Resilience is at the heart of wellbeing. Over the coming weeks, Blocks 3-5 will be focusing on practising the five pillars of resilience; fostering healthy emotional and mental health strategies for life; learning to manage the uncomfortable and struggles in life; mindfulness practice; and connection and support.
All five pillars of resilience are crucial, but in the coming weeks we will focus on developing self-awareness, self-care and mindfulness practice in our Wellbeing sessions. This week, Bedalians have produced a ‘Wellness Jar’ detailing the activities they are going to do on a daily and weekly basis (plus emergencies and treats) in order to be resilient, thus developing healthy emotional and mental health for life. Have a look at my Wellness Jar below. Students have been asked to share the contents of the Wellness Jar with their loved ones.
Additional strategies for fostering resilience discussed in our Wellbeing lessons have included the importance of keeping routines going – including 9-10 hours of sleep, meal times, exercise, play, cognitively stimulating activities, work and relaxation – so that days have rhythm and structure and are not spent inactive. Endless time without structure, meaning and purpose is unhealthy for the body and mind.
There are a number of resources available for parents and teenagers for mental/emotional health issues. Young Minds has a free helpline for parents (0808 802 5544, available 9.30am-4pm, Monday to Friday), as well as a useful website. Helpful information can also be found on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website. Young people can access support from helplines, text lines and online chat services at any time – Childline (0800 1111), Young Minds Crisis Messenger (text YM to 85258) and the Mix (0808 808 4994).
Beginning in Block 3 with the theme ‘Empathy’, Bedalians are encouraged through the Wellbeing curriculum to develop emotional and cognitive empathy, whilst demonstrating empathetic practice through a healthy curiosity for the lived experiences of others. I hope the 6.2 Wellbeing speaker this week – the convicted murderer and columnist Erwin James – inspired students to embody such practice.
Erwin was released from prison in August 2004 having served 20 years of a life sentence. At the time of his conviction, he was an inarticulate and ill-educated individual with, in his own words, “massive failings to overcome”. From unpromising beginnings as a prisoner with bleak prospects, it was encouragement from a prison worker that inspired Edwin to embark on a programme of part-time education. Six years later, he graduated from the Open University with an arts degree majoring in history. Around the same time, he began writing for The Guardian, with the paper publishing his first article in 1998 and a regular column, ‘A Life Inside’, from 2000.