YOGA and mindfulness are on the timetable for pupils and staff at one Hertford primary school this autumn.
Hertford St Andrew’s C of E Primary has seen a huge improvement in attendance levels and behaviour since it introduced its more nurturing approach and is launching even more new initiatives this term.
“A lot of our children live in flats, so we’ve invested in improving our outside areas, creating a sensory courtyard garden, a meadow and an outdoor teaching area, which is what they need – a chance to play and learn outside,” explained deputy headteacher Hannah Orton. “Now we’re starting yoga sessions for all year groups and offering it to all staff and governors on Thursdays after school.”
The 133-pupil Calton Avenue primary was one of 20 Hertfordshire schools involved in a recent national pilot scheme to support the emotional wellbeing of children and young people by improving links between schools and NHS mental health services, including CAMHS – child and adolescent mental health services.
Headteacher Lyn Stark brought in the changes to the school environment and learning styles because caring staff want to support pupils with behavioural problems – like those who are struggling to cope with their parents’ break-up or are shy, anxious and lacking in confidence. As well as helping them to succeed in their school work, the school’s approach will catch any problems early on, in order to prevent emotional wellbeing issues being stored up and having serious consequences in later life.
Breda O’Neill, CAMHS schools link manager at East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “I am so impressed with the amazing nurturing support St Andrew’s staff provide. If children are given the help and the environment they need to lead happy and healthy lives, they are ready to learn and thrive and get on well with their friends. We really want to see more of this good practice adopted across the area as we improve emotional wellbeing services for children and young people in Hertfordshire.”
“A lot of our parents didn’t enjoy school themselves and I think it takes a while for them to realise that this school goes out of its way to help the children. We’re really here for them.” said Stef Todd, special educational needs co-ordinator at St Andrew’s. “We offer every pupil breakfast and the school is always open to children so they know it’s a safe place to get help and support before and after school hours.”
Staff have trained in mindfulness and pupils now lead sessions of the therapeutic relaxation technique. As well as yoga sessions, there’s street dance classes, knitting club and a Sele School sports teacher leads a session a week. They also run a part-time timetable in a quiet ‘reflection room’ to prevent pupils being excluded, have on-site counselling and a small nurture class supporting children with emotional difficulties.
Deputy headteacher Mrs Orton added: “We have high aspirations for all our children and it's wonderful to see the difference these measures are making.”
You can read Hertfordshire’s Transformation Plan for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing 2015-17 here.
Notes to Editors
The school pilot was part of the vision set out in the Future in Mind report, which made a number of proposals on how mental health services for children and young people could be improved. The Future in Mind report set out the challenges faced in getting mental health support to children and young people, especially the most vulnerable.