HMC schools have significantly increased the amount of support they offer parents to help them understand their children’s mental health and wellbeing, heads have revealed.
With teenage mental health high on the education agenda, and the digital world becoming ever more intrusive, HMC schools recognise that modern parenting is far from easy.
A new survey by HMC’s Wellbeing Working Group has found that 71% of HMC schools have increased their provision of courses and information sessions for parents over the past four years, 17% of them significantly so, with the effect that 97% of schools now provide such support.
More than 30% of schools say they are now spending a significant amount of time supporting the needs of parents whose children have welfare and mental health issues. A further 49% of schools acknowledge that they are spending a ‘reasonable amount’ doing so.
The latest survey – in which nearly 200 heads participated – contrasted with the findings of similar research four years ago, and follows a number of initiatives run by HMC in recent years to help schools provide support for parents.
Chris Jeffery, Chair of the HMC Wellbeing Working Group and Headmaster of Bootham School, said the increase was “striking” and “reflected the complexity of the issues schools are asked to take responsibility for, as well as the time that needs to be taken to deal with them properly”.
Mr Jeffery said: “There is evidence that parents are increasingly valuing opportunities offered by schools to support them with the ever-more complex task of bringing up young people.
“While parents are the experts in their own children, they recognise that the combined experience of the staff in our schools caring for many thousands of young people over very many years provides an invaluable expertise in helping young people in general. What may seem a crisis or an insurmountable issue within a single family will rarely be beyond the experience of a school.”
Bootham School runs a programme of Saturday morning events, involving two seven-week parenting courses aimed at different year groups and open forums to discuss issues of mutual concern.
One is for parents with children in Years 11 and 13 and concentrates on the ways they can support their child’s preparation for public exams by helping them manage pressure, by understanding what sort of ‘motivation’ is most helpful (“a big issue”, says Chris Jeffery), and thinking about how to provide the right physical environment for effective study. 50 families were represented at the first session.
The other is for parents in Years 8-10 and concentrates on how parents can expand the boundaries for their children in a way that keeps them safe whilst also allowing them to develop healthy autonomy.
Berkhamsted School has considerably increased its wellbeing support to families in recent years. “We have a varied programme of talks from across our wellbeing team,” says Laura Knight, Director of Digital Learning, “which aims to meet the changing needs of their parent community as their children grow up physically, mentally and emotionally. Its research shows, for example, that students are very likely to seek wellbeing support from their parents but many parents feel out of their comfort zone when faced with concerns or conflicts around digital life.”
She said: “The ‘always on’ nature of young people’s digital life can make boundaries between the parents’ and school’s responsibility less distinct, so a partnership is essential to ensure these young people’s wellbeing does not fall between the cracks. We find increasingly that parents turn to us for support and guidance when navigating complex issues around mental health, identity, social media, online behaviour and privacy, for example. Parents sometimes feel overwhelmed when their children’s curiosity or naïve expertise leads them into difficult situations and we work hard to support parents to develop practical skills, offer advice and empower decision making at home.”
Noushin Rahman-Blake, a senior consultant at Supporting Links, a parenting and training consultancy providing parenting support through workshops and courses, said: “Every year we work with more schools, both state and independent, delivering a range of workshops to support parents – our most popular one being Talking Teens: from child to adult.
“Our workshops are not lectures. Parents are encouraged to ask questions about how to apply new strategies within their own families and challenge themselves to recognise when situations can be tackled more positively. We don’t just teach theory but explore practical ways that parents can use the information when they get home. All parents are affected by similar issues regardless of the type of school that their child attends.”
Noushin Rahman-Blake said that the most common issues raised by parents are:
- Time pressures on adults and children
- Pressure to get homework and activities completed and little time having fun
- Concerns around resilience and motivation
- Supporting children with anxiety and stress
- Lack of communication when children enter adolescence
- How to encourage independence and safety
- Conflict around use of technology
She said: “We strive to build strong relationships with our schools, and to support them in their engagement with parents. When parents trust that their school is keen to support their parenting, they become more engaged in creating strong, nurturing and encouraging relationships with their children.”
Helen Pike, Master of Magdalen College in Oxford, said: “Parenting is a rewarding challenge and the trickiest pastoral questions do not present themselves between the hours of eight a.m. and five p.m on a weekday. In addition to many hours of individual advice – and there is no substitute for that – our school offers seminars and briefing notes on perennial matters of concern: security settings on wifi; pornography; social media; parties; drugs – and our current favourite, the importance of a good night’s sleep.”
The new HMC research follows a poll conducted in 2017 by PTA UK (now called Parentkind) and HMC, which asked parents to rate the issues they would most help with from schools. The most important issues then were:
- Social lives and relationships (28%)
- Work pressures and exams (25%)
- Devices, gaming and online life (23%)
- Mental health (16%)
- Healthy lifestyle (8%)
.The 2017 survey can be seen here:
For more information about Supporting Links, see https://www.supportinglinks.co.uk/
HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) is a professional association of heads of the world's leading independent schools. HMC has 296 members in the British Isles educating more than 200,000 children, and a further 55 international members and 10 associates. Our members lead schools that are distinguished by their excellence in pastoral care, co-curricular provision and classroom teaching. Members of HMC have met annually in conference since the first meeting in 1869. Now celebrating its 150th anniversary, HMC is a thriving, pro-active Association of leading figures in school education. See www.hmc.org.uk.