1 Nov 2022

Why everyone should spend some time in a SEMH School

If there’s one thing that everyone in education is talking about since lockdown, it’s the decline in young people’s mental health.  School refusal has increased, depression is rife among teenagers, there’s been an increase in self-harm and sadly the list does go on… However, whereas these are issues that the pandemic has exacerbated, they were not born out of lockdown. Working in a trauma-informed hospital school we’re all too familiar with this. Every child in our care is here because of their mental health issues which, at the very least have contributed to a fractured education, but for many have prevented them from attending school altogether.

The last time I taught in a secondary school classroom was thirteen years ago. As much as I miss the buzz and creative energy of a mainstream classroom, I do remember how difficult it was for me to do anything about students who were struggling with their social and emotional health, let alone have time to develop the understanding to help them. I like to think that things have moved on since then, but I’m not sure how much. Fast forward to last month when I had the SENCO of a prestigious and successful mainstream school reach out for help because of the increase in their students’ mental health difficulties. One of their students had reintegrated successfully back and he rang me asking to deliver training to their staff on how to support anxious pupils in the classroom and also how to support pupils returning to them from a hospital setting. 

His wasn’t the first school to approach us and I know schools reaching out also comes from our highly skilled teachers who are adept at preparing our pupils to reintegrate. However, this got me thinking- I often worry about our teachers losing touch with mainstream education. This is partly why I have put in place our ECF programme (thanks to the Teacher Development Trust) and why I’m still determined to find an appropriate QTS scheme. Just as I want all our teachers to have relevant experience in a mainstream school, I also think teachers should spend some time in a SEMH school. Here are some reasons why:

  • When all the busyness of a school is stripped away you get to see the trauma of the young person first
  • You get to see how teachers teach a lesson whilst keeping the mental health needs of the young person at the forefront
  • There might not be any other way to receive intense training on how to work with a young person in trauma.
  • You see the spectrum of mental health difficulties young people experience and how it plays out in the classroom
  • It will make a difference to your own classroom practice when teaching 
  • You can have important conversations on how to look after your own well-being whilst prioritising your pupils

So, if you would like to spend some time in our school we would love to begin a dialogue about creating a network for schools to learn from one another and use these practices to develop the mental health and well-being of our young people.

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