Children’s Mental Health Week Spotlight: Beccles Primary Academy

Beccles Primary Academy works hard to implement best practice in mental health provision. Their aim is to develop and embed a culture where mental health and wellbeing sits at the heart of school life.

This is evident in their commitment and drive to achieve the Wellbeing Award for Schools (assessment is due in June). At the start of their journey, the school evaluated their provision to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. This included gathering feedback from key stakeholders (pupils, parents, staff) to ensure a whole-school approach.

“We received a flood of suggestions, which have proven incredibly useful, and we have already been able to act on them.” Sue Manders, Mental Health Champion and Family Wellbeing Lead at Beccles explains. “As an example, we have started to train pupil Wellbeing Champions – four Year 5 pupils who are trained to offer support to their peers in a more informal fashion than asking staff for help. They will be a regular source of low-level support to our wider pupil body and will form a central part of our strategies to support pupils’ emotional wellbeing.”

Additionally, the school works with a specialist mental health school support worker who comes in on a monthly basis to act as a sounding board for staff if they have any concerns about children. They also meet with parents to support them, and recently led a three-session anxiety course for parents. “With mental health services so stretched at the moment, having her as a resource where we can call her and say we’re worried about a child and ask for her advice, is a tremendous help.”

Beccles, like an increasing number of REAch2 schools, has also tapped into the power of pets in the classroom. Statistics show time and time again that animals can help relieve stress and anxiety in children, and can regulate breathing and heart rates. Animals have been known to help calm children during panic attacks, and can be considered their friends, helping them feel less alone. Staff recognise that the school’s chickens and rabbits can be a great tool in helping the children regulate their emotions which allows a restorative approach to behaviour management to take place.

Another innovation to compliment the school’s work to support the local community, is the practical provision of what is called The School Shop. With the news full of reports about the cost-of-living crisis, the school is clear about the link worrying over rising costs may have on the emotional health of families. According to Aisling Traynor, Head of Advice and Training for the charity Mental Health UK, “Money and mental health problems are often interlinked, and together these issues can create a worrying cycle that can lead to problems in other parts of our lives, putting stress on our relationships and negatively impacting our wellbeing.”

Sue explains, “The name is slightly misleading, as we don’t ask for payment from parents for anything we offer here, but instead we use it as a means of ensuring our pupils and their families never have to go without. The Shop is open two days a week and offers a whole range of provisions. We receive donations from a local food bank, from Morrisons, and even a local farm shop which kindly offers fresh produce for our community. Parents are encouraged to come in and take what they need, and we’ve worked hard to make sure it is a judgement-free zone, so no one feels unable to access this service. As a school we also provide uniform items at the shop, as we know this can build into a significant additional cost for families. It means that our pupils can come to school looking their best, and no one feels ashamed if their family is struggling financially.”

Removing stigma around mental health is a key part of the work the school has done to develop a positive culture which regards the emotional wellbeing and mental health of their community, as the responsibility of all.

“What is great to see, is that the Shop has really started to become a community hub, and a number of parents will come in just for a cup of tea and a chat. It’s really helped us develop links with our families, and we know how important these improved relationships are in supporting their children.”

These improved relationships have also enabled the school to introduce parents to the mental health specialist so that they can access support from her, or even just have an informal chat if they have any worries.

Beyond this, the school has plans to build on their school ‘shop’ even further. “We are putting plans in place to host a Toddler Group there as we know that very young children have really suffered during the pandemic. It will be great to open this up to younger siblings and other young children in the area. Our experience so far has shown us how important having the shop is to our wider community and to bringing them into our school.”