Wellbeing – a hallmark of education?

Matt Phillips

Assistant Head of Pastoral Curriculum, Stamford School

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As a leadership team at Stamford School, we work hard to promote the wellbeing of our pupils in all aspects of our school life.  Although as school leaders we are held accountable to this by the ISI inspection framework, we place such an important emphasis on wellbeing as our experience shows us that young people flourish when both the academic and the pastoral elements of their education are holistically interwoven.

To try and emphasise the importance of wellbeing being at the heart of all that we do as teachers, I often show my colleagues a stick of rock, which conjures up childhood memories of trips to the seaside in the UK. One of the unique features of a stick of rock is that if you were to cut through it at any point, the pattern embedded throughout the length of the rock would always be visible. In the same way, I try to impress upon my colleagues that if you were to take a snapshot of our school life at Stamford in any particular moment, you might observe many different kinds of lesson or activity taking place but ultimately it is the focus on the wellbeing of our students which runs through the depth and breadth of all that we do.

So, what does it look like to try and ensure that wellbeing runs through everything that we do as a school? In Stamford, we are still learning how to answer this question ourselves and do not believe that we are yet experts in this field! However, we have been hugely helped in the last twelve months by developing the concept of a ‘Pastoral Curriculum,’ which dynamically interacts and complements our academic curriculum. Whereas previously in our Senior Schools, teaching or interventions relating to the wellbeing of students used to come under the remit of PSHE, we now seek to actively recognise that every part of our school life that in some way contributes to wellbeing. For example, in anti-bullying week this year, all pastoral activities were centred around the theme of making a noise against bullying. This included anti-bullying assemblies, lessons, tutor times, whole school campaigns such as wearing odd socks and even a chapel service for each year group on being an active bystander.  The conversation was continued further by our student support managers, school marshals, teachers and the students themselves who were keen to make their own views heard.  It was exhilarating to see the whole school putting wellbeing so prominently on our agenda.

However, we have also realised in the last year that to succeed in promoting the wellbeing of our students, we need to be working more consciously with parents. This year, we have launched a new series of online seminars called ‘Parent Talk’, which give Stamford parents the chance to engage with expert speakers on important topics such as addiction and developing resilience in young people. The response from our parent body has been overwhelmingly positive but many have also expressed gratitude for the chance to learn together about how best to help young people to flourish. Out of these seminars, we have now started a regular parent forum, where parents are invited into school to help us shape the future of the pastoral curriculum.  This helps continue the conversation about wellbeing and brings new perspectives, ideas, and direction to our work as a school.

And finally, we are also learning that as staff, we cannot be ambassadors for wellbeing unless we learn to look after ourselves and provide role models to the young people who we teach, mentor and coach. When our Principal started to buy in pastries for staff on Thursday morning and invited them to socialise before work, I must admit that I was a bit sceptical about whether many people would turn up. And yet, for many staff, this simple act has provided a moment to catch up with colleagues and to talk about how things are going – something that can sometimes feel easier in the classroom than the staffroom. On a personal note, I’ve also learned that being appropriately vulnerable with my students and sharing how I don’t quite have everything together has inspired them to reflect honestly on their own wellbeing. As a result of one lesson on the theme of our emotional wellbeing, I was even cajoled into growing a moustache for Movember to raise awareness of mental health.  Colleagues and students were both quick to tell me how ridiculous my ‘mo’ looked, and I was inclined to agree with their verdict. Nevertheless, the conversations that followed about wellbeing in the course of this month were well worth the humiliations and itchiness that I had to endure!

Written by Matt Phillips, Assistant Head of Pastoral Curriculum, Stamford School


7 February 2024