AND Advocates: Wellbeing and partnerships

31 May 2018

Rachel Moss, AND Advocates Facilitator, reflects on session four of this year’s AND Advocates Programme focusing on wellbeing and partnerships

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AND Advocates are a group of teachers and senior leaders from schools across London with a passion for the arts and culture in education. For session four of the 2017/18 programme, we met on 1 May at the Museum of London Docklands, near Canary Wharf. The focus was on Wellbeing and Partnerships, key areas identified by the teachers in their applications to the programme.

We began with an exercise to help switch out of the busy school day mindset using a meditation tool called Headspace. Headspace provides free access to short videos to introduce you to the idea of mindfulness, as well as a series of ten free basic audios. We discussed whether teachers could use this type of tool with students, and someone gave an example of how they'd used a sound piece from a forest to inspire a narrative, which worked well with their students.

This was followed by key statistics on mental health in children & young people (source: Young Minds) to highlight why we need to focus on our students wellbeing:

  • 1 in 10 children and young people between the ages of 5 to 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder
  • 68% rise in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm over the last 10 years – that's three in every classroom
  • 80,000 children and young people who suffer from severe depression
  • 50% of adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood
  • 95% of young people in prison have a mental health disorder

The group then heard from two inspirational speakers. Firstly, Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, Research Associate at the Cultural Institute based at Kings College London, introduced us to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing that she is part of, and the inquiry report Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. This was launched last summer, presenting the findings of two years of research, evidence-gathering and discussions with patients, health and social care professionals, artists and arts administrators, academics, people in local government, ministers, other policy-makers and parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament. Rebecca defined well-being as ‘feeling good and functioning well,’ and talked about the social determinants of health.

One of the six Marmot principles (from Fair Society, Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review) is particularly relevant to schools – ‘give every child the best start to life.’ Education is a social determinant of health, so how can the arts be part of this? The achievement gap starts young and continues throughout a child’s education, especially with those from poorer backgrounds. For example, the reading skills of 5 year-olds from low-income communities is on average two years behind their wealthiest peers.

The report features illustrations by artist David Shrigley highlighting the importance of the arts in education, and it gives examples of case studies such as ‘Creative Homes’ where practitioners go into the homes of families with pre-school children to support setting up creative environments. Ten recommendations are given at the end of the report and these are now being taken forward.

Next, Corinne Bass, Senior Partnership Manager from A New Direction, talked to us about partnerships and place-based research, and how young people’s lives are often ‘hyper-local’. Some interesting (and shocking) statistics she shared with us included: 50% of young people think the world is changing for the worse, and there’s been a 70% rise in depression and anxiety in young people.

A New Direction is leading on an exciting new programme, funded by Arts Council England, called Challenge London, the aim of which is to ensure all children and young people in London can develop their creativity, and play an active part in the culture and heritage of the city. The programme has highlighted six factors affecting a young person’s capacity to be creative: fairness, new London, preparing for work, pressures on institutions, influence & power, and wellbeing.

Following on from this, Corinne talked about Cultural Education Partnerships, where cultural, arts, civic, commercial and governmental organisations are coming together with schools, the youth sector, parents, children and young people to focus on the key issues for cultural education in their place. These are locally driven, rooted in the specific challenges and opportunities for places, and sustainable – not prescriptive or one size fits all. In London, A New Direction supports seven existing Cultural Education Partnerships which teachers can get involved with.

AND Advocate Tim Devenish then told us about a project his school took part in with a range of schools, exploring the representation of emotional wellbeing through the school art curriculum. The project, called Elephant in the Room, culminated in an exhibition at the Menier Gallery featuring student’s work which responded to themes identified around mental health and wellbeing in young people. At Tim’s school, they focused on the core values of their school as a stimulus, and one young person’s work was chosen by Children & The Arts for a Jack Petchey Achievement Award.

The AND Advocates spent the rest of the session thinking about setting their own wellbeing agendas in their schools, flagging up Mental Health Awareness Week (14 – 20 May) and Creative & Wellbeing Week (4 – 10 June) as potential starting points. Some of the questions they considered were:

  • What are your key concerns about wellbeing in your school?
  • What one thing can you do as teachers to support your students’ well-being?
  • What one thing can you do as teachers to support your colleagues’ wellbeing?
  • What resources or support will you need to make this happen?

This session was timely, with numerous articles currently being published online (such as this one on the TES) discussing both student and teacher wellbeing, especially in light of student exam pressures and increased teacher workloads.

Discussions included how ‘wellbeing’ is a relatively new term, and that 'welfare' and 'pastoral care' are more commonly used in schools. Ideas included setting up a wellbeing group focusing on the induction of new staff, having board games in the staff room, creating an annual staff pantomime, and having mindfulness slots at the start of lessons through the medium of art. We will be revisiting this at a future session to see how far the AND Advocates have gone on their wellbeing journeys.

During the session, the Advocates also continued mapping their networks – this time focusing on peers in schools – connecting to each other and identifying any gaps (see photograph). We also heard from the Advocates about Teachmeets (including ones that have already taken place, such as the one at the National Maritime Museum last month), and forthcoming events.

There will be opportunities for you to hear from the AND Advocates in future blogs and to meet them at future AND events – look out for their upcoming Teachmeets. In the meantime, you can find out more about them here.