Spring Term – a pastoral reflection

By Peter Thackrey, Deputy Head (Pastoral)

I am very proud of students and colleagues for having successfully navigated the Spring Term together. It is always the most intense term and this term had the added rollercoaster of ever changing goalposts around COVID restrictions both nationally and on a school level. Over this short second half of term, there has certainly been a sense of students re-finding their way with all restrictions lifted, enabling them to gather together as a community in assemblies and experience handshaking. This week, students have particularly enjoyed the beautiful environment in which we live and learn, thanks to the glorious spring weather.

I am very grateful to all colleagues, but especially the teachers, tutors, counsellors, the Sports and Outdoor work teams, the cleaners, catering team, Health Centre team, school GPs, House Assistants, Head of Wellbeing Kirsten McLintock and Houseparents for supporting each child pastorally through the past two terms. Much of the pandemic for everyone has been necessarily reactive, but this term it has felt good to get back to proactive pastoral care with talks for parents on how to support young people around self-harm, raising awareness and how to work with the school around drugs, and most recently, study and revision techniques.

Last week I was able to build rapports with our local police liaison officers who had not been able to visit for two years. We went round the school and the boarding houses saying hello to students as we walked, discussing some of the challenges young people faced at Bedales and how we approach these challenges as a school. It was reassuring to hear that the volume we faced was much lower that elsewhere and the way in which we approached our behaviour policy with dialogue and clear boundaries was effective.

School Council have continued to meet each week to discuss both day to day issues as well as having a voice in strategic planning. Students also have a key part to play in recruitment where they have been interviewing new teachers – often asking harder questions than the adults! Finally, the stand out day was the rural refugee walk on Powell Day when we were able to come together as a school to walk, have space and time to talk and reflect on the world beyond us. This was a turning point from being often necessarily inward looking during the pandemic to now looking beyond ourselves and our community once more as we move forward.

I hope everyone has a very restful, enjoyable and productive (especially for the exam years) Easter holiday.

Pastoral update: Safer Internet Day

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:

  • Advice for parents and carers from Childnet
  • Tips, advice and guides for parents and carers from the UK Safer Internet Centre
  • Guides on popular apps and games from NetAware
  • Reviews and information about games, apps, TV shows and websites from Common Sense Media
  • Help on using parental controls and privacy settings from Internet Matters
  • 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.

We need to talk

By Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

As a headteacher with significant pastoral responsibilities, I read the findings from the recently published report from Edurio – Pupil Learning Experience and Wellbeing Review: Pupil Experience in Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts – with discomfort.

The result of a sizeable survey of pupils from primary, secondary and all-through schools, the report covers topics from the learning environment and learning excellence to wellbeing and safeguarding, with a view to enabling school leaders to understand pupils’ needs and priorities and design strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

The finding with perhaps the greatest sting is that, although less than one half of pupils report feeling well (stress, overwork and sleep are issues for many), under one third will speak to a teacher about it when feeling sad or worried. This is deeply concerning, although perhaps not that surprising. The issue of wellbeing amongst young people has deep roots, and a previous study by Demos suggests that pupils become increasingly disaffected with their school as they get older, with a third of final year students believing their school is focused only on preparing them to succeed in exams, rather than in life. We should also factor into this the government’s enthusiasm for the idea that a ‘good education’ is one transmitted largely from the front of the class by authoritative teachers to quiet, attentive childrenThe recent appointment of Katherine Birbalsingh (Britain’s so-called strictest headteacher) as the government’s social mobility commissioner appears to confirm the idea of teacher as disciplinarian above all else.

Were I at school under such conditions, I’m not sure that I would want to share my worries with a teacher either, and that thought saddens me – not least because I know how keen my colleagues are to be a force for good in the lives of their pupils. I am fortunate to lead a school that makes central to everything it does not only the wellbeing of its pupils, but also the primacy of connection between pupils and adults as key to this being achieved. 

Arguably, this has never been as important as it is right now as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. At Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, we have taken the view that above all else we must pay attention to our pupils, and get a sense of how they are – how they see the world, and themselves. They may well have spent a lot of time looking at screens indoors (itself associated with issues of wellbeing in normal times), and will need to get used to being with their peers once more. So, we have spent as much time outdoors with them as we possibly can – talking, and slowly getting used to being with each other again. Of course, there has been learning too – a carefully-planned cross-curricular programme that has hidden its light in a bushel of fun. However, our first and most important job has been to figure out where they are and help them get them back to land. Whatever the future may hold, we will bring everybody together when we can – and keep doing it. That academic excellence results from such an approach is no coincidence.

In concluding the Edurio report, former Head of Research at Ofsted Daniel Muijs writes, correctly, that we “must not make the mistake of seeing our schools as heartless places”, with pastoral support well established and wellbeing a key concern. Tellingly, he also concedes that overwork and sleeplessness are negative impacts of high stakes testing, but is wary of alternatives to exams such as teacher assessment. It is here that I must resist. Academic achievement must not come at the expense of pupils’ wellbeing, and it does not need to. Schools such as Dunhurst have shown that there are many ways in which learning can both take place and be assessed, and that the entire undertaking is enhanced rather than undermined by pedagogical relationships more ambitious in their scope than government seems willing to consider. If pupils do not trust teachers enough to talk to them it is, at least in part, a problem of government’s own making.

Leadership and service – Badley Mentors

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE

With the application process now complete, we are excited to have launched a new programme for selected 6.1 students – the Badley Mentors.

The Badley Mentors are leading on promoting ‘wellbeing’ for the Bedales community whilst also providing peer support for the younger years. The group will be working primarily with Block 3 students; meeting new students and parents on our induction days, accompanying the Outward Bound trip to Cobnor each September and organising various student social events throughout the year. The Badley Mentors will also be leading Saturday tutor times each week and are attached to a Block 3 tutor group, facilitating discussions on topics such as respect, inclusivity, befriending, values, freedom, identity and living in the Bedales community.

The mentors have completed a full day of training delivered by Peter Bradley, CEO of Safe Child Thailand and former Director of Kidscape, whose experience with safeguarding matters and issues such as bullying is immense. The mentors will be available to the entire student community as a friendly, listening and approachable ear for one-to-one peer mentoring, in addition to meeting parents, reviewing school polices and visiting the Day and Boarding houses. I am excited to be working with the Badley Mentors on this new endeavour and the possibilities it holds.

Supporting positive mental health

By Laura Wells, School Nurse

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 bedaleshealthcentre@bedales.org.uk.

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 (parents@youngminds.co.uk).

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 (pat@papyrus-uk.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.

Mermaids is a charity supporting gender-diverse kids, young people and their families. Their website includes information for young people and parents/caregivers.

“Not all men”

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE

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.

Wellbeing update – Resilience and nutrition

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE

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. 

Building resilience through self-awareness

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing

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.

Building resilience: practical strategies in wellbeing

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE

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).

Thought-provoking talk from Erwin James as Wellbeing programme continues

By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE

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.

He is a patron of the charity CREATE, an organisation that promotes the arts and creative activities among marginalised groups; a patron of Blue Sky, the award winning social enterprise company that trains and employs ex-offenders; and a patron of The Reader Organisation, a national charity that, “aims to bring about a Reading Revolution”. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (FRSA) and an Honorary Master of the Open University, and works full-time as a freelance writer. 

Thank you to Erwin for sharing his story and experiences with our students.