At Ranikhet Academy, mental health is something that is discussed every single day, forming an essential part of our Steps to Success, where the school works to ensure their children are physically and emotionally healthy, which is key to their wellbeing.
Louisa Sanghera, Head of School explains, “The school has a listening culture, where children know if they need to talk to an adult they can do and can be confident that what they say will be acted on and fed back. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work with our pupils to help them articulate their feelings and emotions and helped them develop their vocabularies to describe their feelings and emotions.
One of our main interventions to support pupils’ social and emotional mental health is our Nurture Group, which takes place every morning for children with SEND, or where staff are aware of concerns for them. The Nurture Group room is designed to resemble a ‘family home’ room, so there is a kitchen area, a sofa area, and floor space for learning through play. At present there are 12 children in this group.
In the room, children do a number of learning activities alongside wider activities to develop their social skills. As one example: when they have a mid-morning snack it is the children who make the toast, butter it, serve it to each other, and then wash up afterwards. Our staff model the behaviours we want to see, but otherwise try to sit back and let the children develop at their own pace.
Since bringing in the Nurture Group we have seen a real improvement in behaviour. Previously these children were really struggling to engage with their learning in a large classroom setting, leading to low-level behaviour issues and general disruption. As soon as they were taken out of the classroom and put into the Nurture Group setting for the morning, they were calmer throughout the day.
They clearly enjoy the structure and routine of their morning in the Nurture Group, while also developing strong relationships with the teachers there. We invite their parents into the school so they can see what a morning there looks like, and that also gives us the chance to discuss those so-important things like getting a good night’s sleep, having a solid bedtime routine, a healthy diet, and even giving them some cookery instruction for the future. It means it’s supportive for the whole family, which helps them develop their family unit as well as improving our relationships with them.
Our plan is for the children in the Nurture Group to be in there for four half terms. After this we will assess them to see if they are ready to start their transition back to the classroom, dividing their mornings between the Nurture Group and the classroom, before going back permanently. Of course, if they are not ready, they can stay in the Nurture Group for longer.”
Like Aerodrome Primary Academy and Beccles Primary Academy, pets also feature in the pastoral offer at Ranikhet. There is a ‘Reading to Guinea Pigs Club’, a morning club which is run weekly where children can come in and read chosen stories to the school’s pet guinea pigs.
The school has two guinea pigs which play a key role in supporting the most vulnerable children. These pupils may have struggled to develop their reading skills, as well as requiring emotional support, and so now have the opportunity to come into school and spend time with the pets and read to them in a reassuring and safe environment.
Two Year 6 pupils at Ranikhet Academy are the designated Guinea Pig Champions – responsible for supervising and cleaning out the guinea pig cages, modelling how to care for the pets, and how to use this kind behaviour in pupils’ wider lives. Using pets to support children’s reading is becoming more common in schools across the country as they provide a non-judgemental, supporting, presence which encourages pupils to feel more confident in reading aloud. In addition, there is growing evidence that children’s social and emotional development can benefit greatly from interactions with animals.
Louisa says, “We are delighted with the impact our guinea pigs have made since joining our school– they have been a great addition. Spending time with them has really helped some of our pupils who might need just that extra emotional support at school.”