The upheaval brought about by Covid-19 has brought many challenges for educators, with the negative impact on mental health and wellbeing of students likely to endure over time. Identifying students who are experiencing difficulties and implementing strategies to support student wellbeing will be of critical importance as we move forward in 2021.
Senior Deputy Head and DSL, Luke Ramsden talks to MyConcern Safeguarding Manager Natasha Lawrence about the pastoral initiatives he has implemented to improve student wellbeing. He explains how using MyConcern has helped to transform pastoral care at St Benedict’s, enabling the school to move from reactive to proactive strategies.
Tell us about your school and your pastoral processes?
St Benedicts is an all-through school with around 1000 students and we have all of the issues you would expect in a large school in an urban setting. We’ve been using MyConcern for around 4 years and since introducing the system we’ve seen significant improvements to our processes and our internal information sharing. Everything is very secure but at the same time it is accessible by the people that need the information; individual tutors can have access to the data for just their group, likewise Heads of Year or school counsellors – the right people know the right things..
How does your school spot potential issues that otherwise might have gone unnoticed?
The phrase we use a lot in school is ‘the little pieces of the jigsaw’. We ask staff to record anything they want, it could be as little as “X looked upset in my class today, they don’t usually look upset”. We encourage staff to notice the little things, because its these observations that make up the full picture. We’ve had numerous examples over the years, where different members of staff have picked up on some small things, that tells the Head of Year that there’s something going on. Often, it’s the kind of thing that otherwise wouldn’t be picked up and helps us get ahead of things. We aim to pick up on small things before they become a major problem, or a crisis point has been reached.
For me, that is the best way to be effective when it comes to pastoral care, to have noted an issue, maybe before the student or even the parents have realized it’s a major issue, and then you’re able to do something about it.
Once staff have recorded their concerns – how do you act on this information?
There are two key ways we use the data day-to-day – it helps to provide consistency and combat the issues that might come from changes in staff and it helps us to identify patterns and trends.
Having a chronology for each student is incredibly helpful, a new member of staff may have a student showing signs of anxiety, but won’t know the background. We can look over the chronology of the student and perhaps see that in year 10 before their last exams they got really anxious, maybe it happened in year 8 as well. There’s a really clear record that their tutor can have access to on the platform without needing to dig around for it. They can instantly think ‘I know what’s happening here, this has clearly been an issue in the past, we need to take this seriously’ and so going into year 11 we might be able to predict that this anxiety may be an issue again. This is something I have talked a lot about, how you can predict patterns and certainly it is something you can do with individuals.
Once you’ve identified patterns you can take preemptive actions such as introducing new or additional support groups or counselling sessions. Having that very clear historical record means that whatever your turnover of staff, whoever has taken over a year group can know the issues and the senior leadership team can also consider strategies to prevent future problems.
What are the other main benefits to the way you process pastoral concerns?
We’re able to report on trends and results and quantify issues. This is particularly important when talking to governors and stakeholders. If we can say ‘there are this many students having these issues, this is why we need a full-time counsellor’ that message can be easily understood. Governors might not be on the ground in school, but having quantifiable reports to share is very useful. Recently, we were able to demonstrate that there had been a significant rise in anxiety issues during lockdown and could quantify the increase to explain why we needed training support for other members of staff. We were able to handle the spike in anxiety and mental health concerns as our students returned to school with the help provided by those additional staff that had received mentoring training so our students have received the support they need.
Has the data that you’ve recorded given you any unexpected results?
Yes it has, we’re able to categorise the data that we record; for instance, staying with the example of anxiety, we can record what it is that students are anxious about. A few years ago, staff thought anxiety was mostly related to academic pressure, but in fact data proved that other factors (e.g. body image, social groups and family concerns) were causing issues and the anxiety was then brought to the surface by exams. It highlighted the need to support students not only with their exams and academically, but with these other issues too.
Do you have to record incidents over a long time period before you see patterns emerging?
No. The real beauty of MyConcern is that you can put as much information as you want into it. Recently, we’ve been looking at behavior concerns and where we can support our cover teachers. Due to COVID we have a lot more cover teachers than usual, so we’re trying to work out where we (the SLT) should be dropping into lessons to support them. Behaviour data shows us that Wednesday periods three and four are when students can have more difficult staying focused in class, or certainly that has been the case this term. We now plan a learning walk around cover teacher lessons scheduled during these times, as this is the most important time to support our cover teachers. So, not only can we determine long term patterns, but we can also very quickly look at short term issues and see exactly where the problems are.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I think the key thing about systems like MyConcern is that teachers can see how helpful it is, not only for their students which is vital, but also in empowering themselves. If a student is struggling, empowering a tutor with the information they need which allows them to intervene positively is very powerful. Once you’ve done that, they’ll enthusiastically buy into the system and the more pieces of the puzzle you record, the fuller the picture you can create. For me, the ability to run reports across different groups of students or types of concern helps me to identify where resources are needed and is incredibly useful when its time for inspections.
The full conversation with Luke and Natasha can be watched online here.
MyConcern provide award-winning safeguarding software and services to schools around the world, visit MyConcern.co.uk to find out more about us, or why not register for our Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Webinars that start on the 26th January?!
Luke Ramsden, Deputy Headmaster, St Benedict’s School
Luke Ramsden is Senior Deputy Headmaster at St Benedict’s School in Ealing. He started his teaching career at Tonbridge School and went on to be a Housemaster at Ampleforth College. Luke is senior safeguarding lead at St Benedict’s where he brings a wide experience of pastoral leadership to his role.
Natasha Lawrence, Safeguarding Manager, MyConcern
During her policing career, Natasha specialized in sexual offences and interviewing vulnerable adults and children. She managed incoming referrals around children and adults as an acting Detective Sergeant on the Safeguarding Referral unit and qualified as a Police Trainer, delivering safeguarding and sexual offences training to new police recruits and trainee detectives.