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OHC&AT supports World Mental Health Day

The 10th October 2020 marks World Mental Health Day, a topic that OHC&AT supports wholeheartedly as an organisation. Laurie Cornwell, Executive Principal/Deputy CEO put pen to paper to illustrate how the Trust takes care of its staff, pupils’ and students’ mental health.

If you’re happy and you know it…

Bizarre as it is irritating, this song has got me thinking. Why do we need such a physical sign that we are happy; is clapping hands or stamping feet the best way to ‘really show’ it? Why the emphasis on a physical movement, and a song, for happiness? After all, clapping hands, stamping feet and indeed a smile can easily hide mental ill health.

At OHC&AT we are constantly developing our knowledge and understanding of mental health and how we ‘really show it’. The range of needs of our learners means that it can manifest itself in many ways and be communicated, or hidden, in many different ways.

OHC&AT has worked hard over the past academic year to develop, establish and promote our safeguarding and well-being offers. These offers define a universal entitlement for students and families, promote well-being and enable students to ‘be safe and feel safe’. Essentially, they are at the heart of our very existence and key to OHC&AT’s mission.

Recently we have enhanced our knowledge and skill set within mental health even further. Just like our song though, which I know is all stuck in your heads, how do we know it, how do we really want to show it?

At OHC&AT we use Edupod, a digital platform for planning, managing and evaluating our journey to creating a mentally healthy environment. Fundamentally, it focuses on five key principles: readiness and motivation; leadership and strategy; working together; staff support and development; and student support.

Edupod captures the voice of learners, staff, parents and governors via surveys to strategically assess current progress and identify areas for development. By surveying a range of stakeholders, we are ensuring that whole college and school communities ‘know it’ and we ‘really want to show it’ quantitively as well as qualitatively.

Areas for development are formulated into action plans which can be shared with communities and we have access to resources which are prepared, written, recorded and produced by clinical psychologists and complementary professionals, as well as examples from other schools.  Edupod also offers accreditation, which will support and help our move to excel in creating sustainable mentally healthy environments and celebrate our achievements.

There has and will be, for a significant time to come, an increase in the risks and pressures that young people are exposed to. Of particular concern is the prominently evidenced rise in domestic abuse where reports have doubled; the key word here is ‘reported’ i.e. only the ones we actually know about.

Being mindful of the impact on young people and how this can lead to a subsequent impact on mental health and indeed further acts of violence, OHC&AT has been successful in securing a Youth Endowment Fund, in partnership with Innovating Minds, to train 18 members of staff to deliver the Healing Together programme to our young people.

The aim of the Healing Together programme is to equip students with skills and strategies, so they learn to emotionally regulate themselves and understand how their brain and body are responding to heightened feelings such as anger and sadness, the feelings heightened by experiencing trauma i.e. from witnessing domestic abuse. This programme increases young people’s capacity to safeguard themselves against involvement in youth violence and have a positive experience of help-seeking.

Key to all of the above is our own mental health and that of our teams. We cannot deliver on our whole college/academy approaches or indeed, transform lives if we ourselves are not mentally healthy. I believe it takes the whole of OHC&AT to transform the lives of our pupils and students. This includes looking after our own and each other’s mental health.

Now let’s go back to our song, make a few adaptions, and change the statement to a question. ‘If you’re happy, how do you know it?’ Let’s go one step further. ‘If they seem happy, how do I know it?’. How many times do we greet colleagues and respond throughout the day. This is a habituative part of our everyday but what is its actual value? I would describe it as programmed politeness but does it actually serve any function. How many of us take the time to really look? If we are unhappy and perhaps mentally unwell we may not want to ‘really show it’. We may not even recognise it within ourselves.

Let’s change our song to something better. Something far more superior on so many levels; ELO’s, Telephone line.

‘Hello, how are you?

Have you been alright…

More importantly, let’s mean it!

This is a very exciting and pivotal moment in the lives of St Dominic’s, Brantridge and Grafham Grange schools.  Academy conversion under the sponsorship of Orchard Hill College Academy Trust will help secure their futures and, no doubt, lead to better outcomes for pupils and students, families and carers, staff and all stakeholders.

Ken Cowdery, Chair of Governors

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