Reducing stress and creating the right environment for young people to learn

Mental health and wellbeing will be in the spotlight in 2019. Ofsted has been in discussions with mental health charities and there are suggestions that schools will soon be judged – and graded – on how well they promote the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.

Evidence from charities

Mental health charities have become increasingly concerned that the current UK education system prioritises exams at the expense of wellbeing.

Last year the charity Young Minds commissioned a survey  of 6,719 teachers and this showed that teachers spend on average 4.5 hours every week dealing with student wellbeing or mental health.

Tom Madders, campaigns director at Young Minds, said:  ‘If you are emotionally unwell, it is really hard to learn. So this is not just about looking after children, but it is also creating the right environment for them to learn.’

The teenage brain

Familiarity, structure and routine are not the most exciting words but in an increasingly uncertain world they can provide a strong basis for good mental health especially for teenagers.

There are many pressures on young people and we live in an age where the prevailing national mood is anxiety. This is particularly difficult for teenagers who are in many ways creatures of impulse. In general teenagers are characterised as being risk takers, disorganised, forgetful, sleep deprived, impressionable but also as imaginative, creative, receptive to new experiences and not hidebound by conventions.

There is a scientific explanation for this. The pre-frontal cortex which governs planning and decision-making may not be fully developed until the mid-20s. This makes it difficult for young people to plan ahead, make wise choices and foresee the consequences of their actions.

Reducing student stress

Schools can help. Indeed many young people say the things they like about school are the security, the routines and predictability. They know what will happen and when, and this can be very reassuring and reduce stress

Having a timetable gives a shape to their week and helps students to be in the right place, at the right time with the right equipment. But timetables and planners do so much more than this. They reduce stress. They help us all to anticipate what lies ahead, to predict the high points and low points of our personal week so we can anticipate which day should go well, which will require organisation and planning, and to identify those days when we really need to up our game.

The best planning and recording tools free up our mental energy. It is hard to keep track of everything that is going on and the effort of holding it all in our heads places a great burden on memory which can be better used for learning.

Students needing extra support

The most vulnerable students, those who have low self-confidence, who find it hard to open up and communicate with teachers or other learners need safety nets close at hand. They can benefit from affirmations to reassure and motivate them when they are feeling low, nutrition and exercise advice if healthy eating is an issue,  perhaps a way of tracking their moods or just a space to record their thoughts.

Teachers cannot always be there for their students – there are just not enough hours in the day. But if, as the Young Minds survey shows, teachers are spending 4.5 hours a week dealing with student wellbeing, it is surely worth introducing tools to students that can help them. If young people can take back control of parts of their life, this will bring its own rewards, improve confidence and may encourage a more positive mind-set.

Penstripe can now provide an eight-page Student Wellbeing section for all Student Planners.  We have worked closely with educational psychologists in the production of the section, ensuring that the interactive content really adds value to the conversation on mental health within schools.  Please call 0113 231 0995 or email to speak to our education team and see how your school can visibly provide an accessible student support system right from the pages of their Student Planners.

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