Half of private schools hire stress experts

The Sunday Times, 22/03/15, half of England’s leading private schools have hired counsellors and psychologists to help tackle problems including self-harming, eating disorders, depression and suicide, according to a new study. HMC members Sue Freestone, head of King's Ely, Jim Hawkins, headmaster of Harrow and Tim Hands, vice-chairman of the HMC and master of Magdalen College School are quoted.

The survey of 66 schools, whose head teachers are all members of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), a professional body that represents fee-paying schools, reveals that 50% have a psychologist on call, 45% have hired one or more counsellors, 40% have established links with therapists and 90% run classes for parents on how to spot signs of teenage anxiety or distress.

Half the schools surveyed, which include famous names such as Benenden, in Kent, where Princess Anne is an old girl, and Harrow, alma mater of Winston Churchill, now spend more than £50,000 a year on improving the care of pupils, with 12% spending £100,000 or more.

Sue Freestone, the head of King's Ely, in Cambridgeshire, and an HMC member, advised working parents to find “proper family time” to listen to their children’s concerns. “Time to help young people build a sense of their own worth and their value just for being themselves,” she said.

“Not because they are gifted in music or scoring highly in maths. Just being loved for what they are.”

Freestone said the number of young people admitted to hospital for self-harm had increased by a “horrifying” 70% in the past decade.

Tim Hands, vice-chairman of the HMC and master of Magdalen College School, in Oxford, said: “This generation of pupils, wherever they are educated, faces unique pressures encompassing both the traditional problems of adolescence and the modern-day challenges of 24/7 social media, relentless exams, increasing debt and an uncertain job market.”

Jim Hawkins, head of Harrow, which employs a full-time psychologist, said schools should consider redefining success. “If boys are so aware that everyone expects them to have perfect exam grades, go to the best university, have a perfect career, for some youngsters that pressure is excruciating,” he said.

The survey’s findings will be published this week during a conference at which private- school heads and university vice-chancellors will discuss better ways of working together to protect vulnerable students.

According to the poll, most students believe that both the quality of teaching and pastoral care was better at school than university. There is also concern about the growing number of students who drop out of courses and the number of suicides involving students.

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