Mental health and wellbeing at The Unicorn School
Please see below an article that has just gone live on Independent Education Today, written by Alexandra Foster, SENCo.
Mental Health and wellbeing is at the heart of The Unicorn School says, assistant headteacher and SENCO Alexandra Foster.
We recognise that mental health is intrinsically linked to physical health and as such should be given equal consideration and focus. We feel our excellence and innovation in this field stems from the whole-school community approach; we focus not only on how mental health impacts our pupils but also families and staff.
‘We are continually looking for ways to improve and to further understand the challenges that so many young people face‘ _ Alexandra Foster, assistant headteacher and SENCO
We are delighted to have been awarded the ‘Gold school mental health award’ from the Carnegie Centre of Excellence at Leeds Beckett University, this is a huge achievement for our school and a reflection of our passion for supporting mental health.
“We are so proud of how our school community works together through ongoing communication and collaboration to support the mental health of our pupils. Our recent accreditation of the ‘Gold schools mental health award’ reflects the importance that we place on wellbeing. We are continually looking for ways to improve and to further understand the challenges that so many young people face”.
Supporting pupils aged 8 to 16 with dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and associated learning difficulties
The Unicorn School is a specialist school for pupils aged eight to 16 with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and associated learning difficulties. We have 108 pupils supported by 55 members of staff.
The high staff to pupil ratio not only reflects our commitment to academic progress but also recognition of the need for immersive pastoral care.
Given the nature of the difficulties our pupils face, we often find that when they join our school they are suffering from low self-esteem. Approximately one third of our pupils are also on the autism spectrum which can present challenges around social interaction skills and heightened levels of anxiety.
Our integrated therapy approach combines the work of our speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, play therapist and two emotional literacy support assistants (ELSA), all of whom are onsite daily.
This innovative approach facilitates clear communication between therapists and all school staff including teachers, administrators, and non-teaching staff. In ensuring that all staff are aware of the needs of pupils we have created a collaborative approach which avoids misunderstanding or inconsistencies. Weekly social communication sessions provide additional group support and one-to-one ELSA sessions support pupils with understanding emotions.
Mental health and wellbeing is embedded in our school curriculum. All pupils in KS2 and KS3 receive daily 30-minute PSHE lessons, each of which begins with a five-minute mindfulness session. In KS4, pupils receive thrice weekly study skills lessons which focus on metacognition and growth-mindset, which addresses anxiety and self-awareness as pupils approach GCSEs.
Also, all staff are trained in the zones of regulation and carry the four-colour card on their lanyards; this approach invites pupils to identify emotions and to speak to any adult about help they may need. We also hold regular assemblies on mental health and wellbeing and encourage pupils in KS4 to lead some of these.
Additionally, working with external agencies such as CAMHS, LCSS and MASH is a key aspect of our mental health and wellbeing policy. We request advice from local mental health groups and invite them in to speak to parents and pupils. We hold termly mental health mornings for parents where they can speak to therapists or just to converse with other parents who may be in a similar position.
In recognising the importance of positive mental health and placing that at the heart of our school ethos, our pupils are supported to recognise themselves as individuals, as friends, as learners, and as achievers in whichever path they choose.
Comment from ISA chief executive on the work of its members
The Unicorn School is part of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) via their head’s membership, and Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, chief executive officer of ISA, wholly supports the initiatives to support mental health and wellbeing that are taking place across ISA members’ schools, of which there are soon to be over 600 across the UK and overseas.
“ISA Members are dedicated to maintaining cultures that promote wellbeing for both staff and students. There are numerous examples of environments that are progressive in supporting mental health across the ISA.
“At The Unicorn School, their innovative integrated therapy approach has been tailored to the specialist needs of the students they care for, and the outcomes are fantastic ─ school is an embracing, nurturing environment for young people who have been challenged with low self-esteem and anxiety during their time in education.
“At The Unicorn School, their innovative integrated therapy approach has been tailored to the specialist needs of the students they care for, and the outcomes are fantastic” _ Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, chief executive officer of ISA
“Similarly, the team at another ISA school, Malvern St James Girls’ School, has cultivated a positive environment for their entire school community. The development of The Hive, their dedicated wellbeing hub for pupils, a growing pastoral care programme for staff and a reformed PSHEEC provision that develops mechanisms for pupils to take beyond school are all central to this.
“Over at DLD College London, significant steps have been taken to transform the cultural mindset surrounding mental health and wellbeing. Pastoral care strategies have been extended to become proactive, rather than just reactive. The focus on pupil voice has created a space which is empowering and supportive for students, staff, and families.
“At ISA, fellowship has always been at the heart of what we do, and this has allowed for a growing network of pastoral support for Heads and school staff to flourish for over 140 years. Crucially, these connections continue to provide us with the opportunity to share best practice in promoting wellbeing and supporting mental health across our entire membership and the wider education sector.”