How Schools Can Help Tackle Mental Health

A recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has shown that twice as many schools in England, 66%, are having to commission professional support and in-school counselling compared to 2016. Despite mental health being a high priority for the UK government, schools face growing numbers of pupils with mental health issues while support services are increasingly hard to procure. In this post, we’ll look at ways that schools can help tackle mental health in-house.

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A whole-school approach

One of the first ways a school can move forward is to develop a school-wide approach to positive mental health. This includes the mental health of all the community: pupils, staff and parents. Mental wellbeing needs to be embedded not just in the curriculum, but in the entire life of the school, including in classroom practice, rewards and sanctions, play/free-time management and in enabling a work-life balance for all. At the same time, schools should try to encourage behaviours and attitudes that improve wellbeing.

Designated mental health coordinator

Creating a designated role for mental health gives the issue the important status it needs at management level and means that a whole-school approach can be better coordinated. The person in charge will have the authority to implement best practice and procedure as well as to monitor progress and evaluate impact. It also means systems can be centralised, reducing the chance of invisible cases.

A designated coordinator can also be the face of mental wellbeing within the school, being the first point of call, while also supporting staff, parents and pupils. They can also be the representative of the school when liaising with support services or colleagues from other schools.

Mental health training

67% of schools now undertake mental health training for their staff and this is vital to increase awareness of the various types of disorder that pupils may be affected by. It helps teachers to identify signs of mental illness so that those with potential disorders are given speedier help, and it enables teachers to improve classroom practice so that general wellbeing is enhanced and that those with disorders can cope better during the school day.

Training, of course, can be implemented in several ways. Schools can invite professionals in to address the entire staff or individual teachers can attend courses out of school and then feedback to the rest of the staff at a later date. Local clusters may also have support groups who deliver training in your area.

One key area of training is how to deal with a child who is having a mental health crisis. The NAHT survey reported that only 44% of headteachers felt confident their school could deal with such a situation.

Enabling openness

The first step to getting help is telling someone about your mental wellbeing. In schools, there are three hurdles which need addressing to enable this to happen. First of all, children need the language skills to enable them to talk about their problems. They need to know how to express their feelings so that they can tell their friends or their teachers what is happening to them. If a child lacks the ability to articulate how they feel, they may be unable to seek help.

Secondly, schools need to do everything they can to remove the stigma of mental health. This might not be such a major issue for younger children, but as they get older and more self-conscious, fear of other people finding out can make issues worse and prevent help being sought. This is equally true of staff who may also fear that their jobs are at risk if they come forward.

Finally, people need someone to tell. Although the mental health coordinator is perhaps the first port of call for serious concerns, all members of the community should be encouraged to support others, whether it is a friend, a pupil or a colleague.

Fun, outdoor exercise

The school playground can play an important role in improving mental wellbeing. Simply getting outside into the fresh air and away from the classroom is a natural mood-lifter in itself. However, if free time is made fun, it can help with issues of anxiety and depression and counteract the stress which classwork puts children under. That, of course, means equipping your playground with apparatus that will engage pupils in fun activities, whether that’s playing football, roleplay, making mud pies or digging up a sandpit .

Even more beneficial for mental wellbeing is when children are provided with opportunities to engage in physical activity. Sports markings, climbing frames, outdoor gyms, etc. all help children to take part in moderate or strenuous activities which have been proven to help prevent serious mental health issues developing and which make it easier for those with existing conditions to cope.

Conclusion

With 12.8% of pupils suffering from a mental health condition and a lack of external help, all schools are under increasing pressure to cope. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned in this post will help your school improve provision for your pupils.

If you are looking to make breaktimes more fun and to encourage more children to participate in physical activity, check out our wide range of playground equipment.

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Going Up! 6 Benefits of Climbing Frames for Primary Pupils

Take any primary aged child to the local park and they’ll instinctively head straight for the climbing frame. There’s something alluring about getting off the ground and tackling the challenges that climbing frames pose. Children love them and that’s a good thing because besides being great fun, they are also incredibly beneficial for kids of that age. It’s no surprise, therefore, that climbing frames have become one of the most popular forms of playground equipment found in UK primary schools. To understand why so many schools opt for them, here are six benefits they offer to infant and junior pupils.

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1. Growing Independence

Pupils should leave the education system as well-rounded individuals prepared for the wider world. Integral to this is being able to think and act for themselves. The journey to personal independence begins in primary school and can be nurtured by participation in free play.

Equipment like our Free-Flow climbing frames is ideal for this purpose as pupils will need to be self-reliant and make their own decisions about how they navigate the many possible routes and negotiate each of the exciting obstacles they have to overcome.

2. Accepting challenge

Getting children to accept challenge is important if they are to meet and exceed expectations. While some children arrive at school with this trait, others need to acquire it. Climbing frames provide a fun way to do this as pupils and their peers often set themselves challenges in how to tackle the different routes around the structure. A child who has successfully managed the challenge of the jungle bars or traversing wall at break is going to be more self-confident when it comes to taking on the maths challenge in the next lesson.

3. Onboarding of learning skills

Some essential skills are best learnt not in a classroom but in the playground and in unstructured time. Three good examples of these are concentration, teamwork and resilience, all of which are vital for a child to learn well and succeed.

When children play in groups on a climbing frame, they can develop all these skills and do so in a way that comes naturally to them. For example, when playing on a Trim Trail obstacle course, they will need to develop concentration to master each of the obstacles, they will have to collaborate with friends to help the team complete the course and, until they master all of the physical skills needed, they’ll need to develop resilience when they initially fail at some tasks. The benefit is these skills are transferable and can be used to help the children study and learn better back in lessons.

4. Bolsters social skills

Climbing frames aren’t just for climbing, some have themed designs that are specially created to motivate role play. Taking part in such action adventures, with children adopting different personas in a range of made-up situations, requires a lot of social interaction. This develops social skills like communicating, negotiating and turn-taking while enabling the children to have empathy for and understanding of others. At the same time, they’ll discover the need to set rules and boundaries and learn how to resolve fallouts.

5. Promotes physical health

Playing on a climbing frame is akin to having a physical workout. Children will naturally run, jump, swing and climb in order to get from one part to the next and this requires significant physical exertion and the use of virtually all the muscles. In doing so, the activities improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle strength and enhance general fitness. They also burn calories, helping children to maintain a healthy weight.

Perhaps what’s even more appealing for the school and parents is that installing a climbing frame can motivate children to be even more active. According to Liverpool John Moors University research, when climbing apparatus is installed in a playground children increase their participation in moderate to vigorous activity by around 30 minutes per week. As a result, over 70% of pupils show an improvement in their health and fitness.

6. Good for mental wellbeing

The mental health crisis is a national issue at the moment and this affects children just as much as adults. According to the NHS, in 2017, 1 in 8 five to nineteen-year-olds had at least one mental condition, with emotional, behavioural and hyperactivity disorders being the most prevalent. While there are many possible causes of mental health disorders, children from low-income families, those under pressure to do well in examinations and those with identity or self-image issues are particularly at risk.

The issue is compounded by the lack of adequate mental health services and so schools, which look after these children on a daily basis, get very little help. Although it is not a panacea, providing young children with the opportunity to take part in physical activities, such as playing on a climbing frame, has been shown to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.

The moderate to vigorous activity undertaken on climbing frames helps to increase endorphin levels, lifts mood and reduces stress. This can help children to be calmer, less anxious, more focussed and even better behaved. Indeed, those who take part in regular physical activity have less chance of developing a mental health condition.

Conclusion

Children are naturally attracted to climbing frames and the challenges they throw at them. Putting one in your playground offers far more than just fun, though. It helps with physical and mental health, develops social and learning skills, increases personal independence and fosters a more positive attitude to accepting challenge.

To enable your pupils to enjoy these benefits, take a look at our wide range of climbing frames.

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Green Ridge Primary Academy – Creating the ‘WOW’ Factor One Year On

We were delighted to revisit this play area one year after we completed the project.

This showcases not only the great work we do but also the fact that our play areas stand the test of time!

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The project at Green Ridge Primary Academy, Aylesbury, involved creating several new EYFS areas.

The new play areas have injected a new lease of life into the Academy’s outside space and will entertain and motivate the children for many years to come!

As you can see from the play area in the photos, it is designed for children just starting their first stages of education; these years are crucial for cognitive learning and development of their social skills.

Bringing children to play and learn together in this way is central to everything we create.

Speaking to the staff at Green Ridge they have expressed their joy towards the project stating they are ‘over the moon’ with the results and the way in which the children have used the pace over the last year.

As a company, we pride ourselves in the work we do and the impact, not only for the children, but also for the staff who are able to teach more engaged and healthier young people.

We take our duty of care to our customers very seriously and we very much believe the customer service we provide is as important as any of the work we do  - before, during and after.

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The Magic of MUGAs – Why All Schools Need a Multi-Use Games Area

In an era when educational leaders are looking for ever more creative ways to solve complex problems, one of the most popular and innovative solutions has been the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA). The MUGA has proven itself to be useful in a wide range of educational settings, from primary schools to colleges, and has become the option of choice for those who want to offer students a broader range of sport, exercise and excitement.

An overview of a MUGA

Space-saving and money-saving, a MUGA pitch is essentially an outdoor space carefully designed to incorporate a number of different sports and games activities. Its installation means schools can offer a wider repertoire of physical activities and, through this, encourage more children to take part.

The beauty of the MUGA is that there are lots of design options available. This means schools can create a MUGA that meets their development plans and which offers activities that their pupils will relish participating in.

Increased enjoyment is a decisive factor in choosing a MUGA. As children have fun taking part in the new forms of exercise, it will help them with both physical and mental wellbeing. Indeed, the positive feelings they experience can help them develop a better attitude towards staying healthy and lead them to adopt increasingly active lifestyles.

There is a range of MUGA sports pitches available, with different surfaces, including artificial grass,  and a variety of pitch markings, such as football, hockey, netball, tennis, basketball and cricket.  There are also other features you can include, such as goal posts, basketball/netball nets, ball walls and wall targets. What’s more, the pitches can be sized to fit the space you have available, letting you maximise the use of your existing outdoor area.

The educational advantages of a MUGA

MUGA facilities provide schools and colleges with a range of useful benefits. One of the most important is the ability to develop a wider PE curriculum, something the government’s new School Sports and Activity Action Plan (July 2019) seeks to do as it aims to put sport back at the heart of children’s daily physical activity. By fitting out a single space with multiple pitch markings, schools are able to deliver a wider variety of sports for pupils to take part in. This flexibility is ideal for schools with small outdoor spaces that are currently only able to offer limited provision, though even those with extended grounds have discovered the benefits of having multiple MUGAs.

Children can also use MUGAs to play on during break and lunchtimes. This provides all students with the opportunity to participate in enjoyable, physical activity every day of the week and, in doing so, increases the time they can be active far beyond that which is allocated in the timetable. Furthermore, the allure of playing on a properly marked out pitch increases the likelihood of them wanting to get involved. This is especially so when the pupils have been consulted about the types of sport and games they would like to play before the MUGA was designed. Indeed, by installing preferred markings, you help reduce playground boredom and this can have a positive impact on behaviour, both during breaks and back in the classroom.

MUGAs also enable schools to offer a wider choice of extracurricular sporting activities, giving some pupils the ability to develop skills to a higher level or take part in sports they really enjoy. They make it easier to bring in expert, third-party sports providers to deliver after school workshops and also enable the school to play in a variety of inter-school leagues and competitions and do so at your home ground instead of having to play away matches all the time.

Other benefits of MUGAs

Beyond the educational benefits discussed above, MUGAs also provide various other advantages. Financially, MUGAs deliver the most cost-effective way to utilise outdoor space as a single area can be used for a range of different sports. This cuts down on the amount of maintenance required to keep multiple sports pitches in good condition and frees up additional space for other uses, such as for track and field sports, outdoor classrooms, nature areas or the installation of climbing equipment.

Additionally, MUGAs are excellent facilities to let out to sports clubs for evening and weekend training and matches. As these tend to be long term lettings, they can help generate significant income over the academic year which, with today’s tight budgetary constraints, most schools would welcome. Such income could be fed back into the PE curriculum to provide new sports resources, such as an outdoor gym or even an additional MUGA.

Conclusion

MUGAs really are an innovation in the use of space. They expand the number of sports children can participate in and, through that increased participation, help the pupils live healthier lifestyles. At the same time, they enable the school to develop a broader curriculum, improve break and after school activities and provide an additional way to generate income – and all this can be done in one single, easy to maintain space.

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Government Puts Physical Activity Back on the School Agenda

The new School Sports and Activity Action Plan, announced in July, is a programme implemented by no less than three Whitehall Departments: the Department for Education, the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It’s a major public health initiative and its directives will impact on schools.

What is the action plan aiming to do?

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The aim of the new action plan is to increase participation in sport and physical activity in order to improve the long term physical and mental health and wellbeing of young people with the hope that they will continue to enjoy healthy lifestyles throughout their lives.

According to the most recent Active Lives Children and Young People survey, a third of young people in the UK still do not do the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The action plan seeks to change this by introducing new ways to put sport at the heart of young people’s daily routines. In particular, it seeks to find ways to encourage girls and other social groups that currently do not take part in regular sporting activity.

Ofsted to focus more on physical activity

early years outdoor play

The action plan has been taken into account by the new Ofsted Inspection Framework which comes into effect at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. From September, inspection teams will expect a school’s curriculum to include opportunities for pupils to be active during the school day and through extra-curricular activities.

Specific focus points

The Sports and Activity Action Plan has a number of focused objectives that it wants to see achieved. These include increasing opportunities for girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds and giving greater access to competitive sports, which it describes as ‘character-building’. As a result, it wants to see that there is equality for boys and girls when it comes to the sports, activities and competitions on offer. In addition, it is looking for schools to offer more modern PE lessons and provide access to high-quality after school clubs and competitions.

Extra funding in place

Although it is by no means a huge capital injection, the Department for Education has provided £2.5 million over the next financial year to help schools. This will be used to deliver additional training for PE staff, assist schools in making their sports facilities available during weekends and holidays, and to provide young people with increased opportunities to become sports leaders and coaches. A further £2 million is to be made available by Sport England with the purpose of setting up 400 new after-school clubs, offering coordinated sporting programmes and competitions for those pupils in disadvantaged areas.

Beyond health

early years outdoor play

Sport and physical activity have long been known to have an impact that goes beyond improving health and the action plan is designed to reap these additional benefits. As a result, all schools in England and Wales need to recognise the importance of physical literacy and modern PE lessons when it comes to improving such things as attainment, pupil behaviour and wellbeing. To increase enjoyment and participation, therefore, the action plan wants pupils to have a greater role in determining the range of sports and physical activities on offer. In doing so, schools are encouraged to provide activities for those pupils who are not motivated by what is currently on offer.

What schools should consider

Essentially, the action plan seeks to integrate sport and exercise into the daily routines of all pupils; it wants to increase the amount of time students spend being active but doing so in a way that will appeal to all, especially those who currently turn their back on traditional sports and activities.

For schools, this means listening to the pupils and finding out what activities they would be more inclined to enjoy. Sports England, for example, is investing £1 million in digital resources for girls, including a range of workout videos with Netflix-appeal, that can be used in schools. Some schools have expanded their offer by buying in third-party providers of equestrian and water sports, others have utilised outdoor spaces to install climbing walls, Trim Trails, outdoor gyms and MUGAs. Even installing simple playground markings can dramatically increase the activities on offer, providing pitch and court markings for football, basketball, netball, cricket, tennis and more.

Conclusion

The School Sports and Activity Action Plan aims to expand physical and sports activity in schools, especially for those pupils who are not currently enticed to take part. With Ofsted taking increased note of the breadth and balance of the curriculum, it is likely that there will be close scrutiny of those schools which do not provide adequate opportunities for all students to take part in sports and physical activity. Hopefully, this article will have given you a greater understanding of what the government is trying to achieve and how schools will be expected to play their part.

If you are looking to offer a wider range of sports and outdoor activities, take a look at our outdoor playground equipment.

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