Whilst waiting lists were long before March 2020, one of the consequences of the pandemic has been a tremendous backlog in accessing external services to support pupils’ mental health. As a result, Camulos Academy has worked to train up their staff to develop a model of internal support to ensure pupils are able to reach their full potential.
Sam Greatorex, SENDCo at Camulos explains, “Our staff are very good at noticing triggers and signs of potential distress among our pupils. We’ve done a lot of training on this in the past and it has really paid off. Teachers are very quick to come and say they have a child who is struggling, meaning we can move quickly to see if they need an intervention, or a programme of support put in place.”
Programmes include speech and language interventions to enable pupils to have the vocabulary to express their emotions, as well as training a member of staff as an Emotional Literacy Support Assistant to help children develop their emotional and social skills.
“We are in the process of training up two members of staff on Mental First Aid courses, and our Headteacher is a Mental Health First Aider. These are vital roles where they can spot the signs of mental health issues and have the skills to support someone in crisis. It also means raising awareness around mental health for both staff and pupils and reducing any stigma around mental health.”
Another support mechanism in place, funded by the school, is a play therapist who comes in every week to work with pupils who need more focused support. If children are struggling to engage with their classes, they’ll be referred to the therapist for an initial six-week block. This has proven to have a huge impact in helping these pupils regulate their emotions, and while they may still have their ‘blips’, it’s a significant improvement in helping them concentrate in class.
Despite all these measures the school recognises that some children may still need more professional support through accessing CAMHS. However, with external support still difficult to access, by developing a model of internal support the school has embedded a supportive and caring ethos throughout the school.
Always looking to improve, the school has more plans in place to enhance mental health support for their pupils. “We want to build on our provision by training staff on Trauma Perceptive Practice. This helps staff understand more about the neurobiology behind pupil behaviours, why different situations cause pupils to react in different ways, and how these are influenced by the traumas they’ve experienced. It essentially helps staff understand that pupils aren’t misbehaving because they’re naughty, but rather because there are underlying issues that they need to explore.
These could be previous traumas, attachment issues, or emotional concerns. The programme is non-punitive and is designed to help staff identify certain triggers in their pupils and then approach them in a more compassionate fashion.”
The Headteacher and SENCo are currently training on the programme and will look to embed it among the rest of the staff over the course of the summer term.
It’s just one more example of the school looking at how they can mitigate the impact of losing outside support. With schools across the country struggling to access external services, Camulos have had to think harder about how they can actively widen the support they can offer ‘in-house’. “Our school culture is built around inclusion and putting in the work to help our pupils overcome any barriers to learning and developing a strong internal model of support is central to this.”