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How to support your child as they start secondary school

How to support your child as they start secondary school

17 September 2019

Starting secondary is a significant milestone in a young person’s life – new schools, new friends, new teachers and indeed new challenges altogether. Whether you’re a parent, teacher or practitioner, helping a young person through this transition can be one of the most impactful things you do for them. But how can we support them? Here our practitioners, team and friends share practical ways we can help pupils deal with such challenges.

1. Developing an identity

Fitting in, asserting an identity or gaining peer acceptance becomes even more prominent in a secondary school context. This undeniable reality can often lead to a dip in academic progress or intensify challenging behaviour.

“My challenge at school was a struggle between being a good student and getting the grades everyone (including myself) expected of me and wanting to be independent and assert my identity; who I wanted to be in this world and who my friends were,” says Sandra, Intervention Practitioner at Kineara.

Helping young people to express themselves authentically and take advantage of extracurricular activities is just one way of facilitating healthy social exploration. Sandra adds that it’s also important for parents and teachers to try to understand why someone is behaving the way they are instead of just trying to change it.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track,” she adds.

2. Bullying and peer pressure

Whether its physical, verbal, social, or online, bullying can take many forms. For parents, identifying any changes in your child’s behaviour, asking questions, and building meaningful relationships with their teachers can all make a difference.

Strengthening relationships between the parent and child, parent and teacher, and teacher and child, is one aim of M2E. “I was lucky that I had a good upbringing with parents who gave me a strong sense of self-worth that made me realise my potential. Without it I may have ended up in more serious trouble that would have been harder to return from,” says Sandra.

During the transition, it can be helpful to try to increase your child’s circle of friends by encouraging them to invite home their friends or participate in group activities. Educating pupils and their parents through assemblies, class discussions and workshops can also help to challenge stigma and raise awareness about the challenges that pupils are facing.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track.”

Reflecting on her own experience, Mel, Comms Lead at Kineara, highlights the importance of having quality support. “For me the main thing was going from a very small school where everyone knew each other to a school with hundreds of kids in each year; this was a bit intimidating at first! The key thing for me was that I had a close-knit group of friends that formed pretty early; they were my peers who I went to for support and we took each other through the whole secondary journey.”

“For pupils who are feeling shy or lonely, we often involve their peers by bringing them into our sessions to participate in group activities such as cooking and baking, which develops the child’s confidence and broadens their friendship circle,” says Gail, Kineara’s M2E lead.

3. Mental health and wellbeing

With 1 in 10 children and young people experiencing a mental health issue at any one time, it is important that we are clued up on the challenges of dealing with mental health, and how we as parents, teachers and practitioners can support pupils. What’s more, a recent Government Green Paper (2017) stated that appropriately trained teachers and school staff can make a difference in addressing mild to moderate mental health problems such as anxiety and conduct disorder, comparable to those achieved by trained therapists.

In delivering M2E, we’ve found that teachers and school staff can support pupils by  developing their understanding of mental health through relevant training such as MHFA courses, as well as receiving support with their own wellbeing. We have also seen how a school benefits from adopting a joined-up, wraparound ethos that focuses on wellbeing just as much as academic outcomes. As part of the culture, schools could consider activities that have been proven to help pupils manage high levels of stress such as mindfulness, yoga and relaxation/breathing exercises.

The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support must be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

After taking part in M2E, one pupil who was struggling to manage his temper said about the programme: “I enjoy having better relationships with people in school. I use my breathing techniques when someone is annoying me, and I listen to my relaxation before bed and no tech for one hour which helps my sleep.” In this case we found the main outcomes to be significant improvements in the pupils’ overall stress and behaviour, followed by an improvement in concentration and emotional awareness.

There are a plethora of online resources exploring different areas of mental health and wellbeing, from exam stress, eating disorders to responding to traumatic events. We have also written about the real impact of exam stress and why schools need to  focus on supporting mental health during this difficult time.

4. Hidden or complex challenges

For some, personal, hidden, or external challenges will take a toll on social and academic progress through secondary school, including the impact of educational inequality, a lack of adequate support for SEND pupils, family breakdown, or issues with housing. One way of supporting pupils through such a challenge is looking at the ‘whole-person,’ offering empathy and being emotionally available.

“The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support has to be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable,” says Maria, “When you’re talking to someone, it helps to see that person as a system – in that system is a person, their needs, background, parentage, education etc. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

Maria explains that not everyone offers holistic support, neither does everyone have to.” As a school, for example, it’s about recognising that there are other organisations that can support with intervention on a holistic level. It’s about partnership,” she says.

Learn more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Impact, Research
Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

22 August 2019

Having received their exam results, many students across the country will be experiencing feelings of joy and relief, exceeding their own expectations and looking forward to their next ventures. But for those who didn’t achieve as well, feelings of stress, disappointment and uncertainty will begin to loom over them. 

The evident pressure put on young people during exam season, be it from the school, family or themselves, can often impact greatly on pupil wellbeing in school and out. To this end, many schools have introduced, and are doing exceptional work in the run up to exam season – including mental health and wellbeing provision; from equipping students with effective tools and strategies to cope with exam stress, utilising online resources, and providing professional, specialist support for pupils and teachers alike.

But what can we do on an individual level to support a young person deal with the impact of results day?  Here are our five top tips from parents, young people and our own education support practitioners who each bring a unique perspective.

1. Celebrate the wins

Feelings of stress or disappointment are completely normal during this time, and though it’s important to give them space to come to terms with it all, you can help them remember how far they’ve come and what they’ve achieved in school and out.

Having delivered multiple careers related talks at schools and colleges, Tam, Comms Officer at Kineara, says: ”By talking about extra-curricular activities or achievements outside of school, you will be reminding them that there’s more to life than exams and that there’s no one route to success. It’s important to nurture the idea of celebrating small wins, whatever they may be, to maintain motivation and broaden your aspirations.”

2. Don’t add to the pressure

It’s important not to offer immediate judgement or even solutions, rather give them time to accept their feelings, whatever they are.

“I think the most important message is that no emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s what you do with it that counts,” says former Motivate to Educate (M2E) practitioner Roz. “Letting a child know that we all feel angry, worried or sad sometimes and letting them accept these feelings without judgment is a real gift. It’s so important to support a child in being able to talk about their feelings by making conversations with emotion-words part of daily life.”

3. Help them explore their strengths and individuality

In delivering M2E, one of the key learnings for our practitioners has been in adapting their support approach to cultivate the unique strengths of the individual pupil. This is done through active listening and enabling the young person to make decisions and empower themselves.

“If one tried their best in a particular exam and still didn’t do so well, consider what their strengths are perhaps in a different subject,” says Elle, Head Tutor at EDS Education. “It’s not the end of the world and young people shouldn’t feel pressured to do well in a particular subject which their parents might expect them to. For example, I have a student who is great at maths but not so much in Science. It’s about finding your strengths are and celebrating them.”

Zak, a Youth Panellist at YoungMinds, adds that it’s crucial not to compare students to their peers: “Someone may graduate at 21, but can’t find a job until 25. Someone else may graduate a year or two later – perhaps due to taking a gap year or retaking a year – and then find a job immediately upon graduating. Everyone is on their own journey.”

4. Talk to them about their feelings

Our practitioners use a wide variety of tools in tackling worry and anxiety in pupils, such as the use of bubble wrap, practicing breathing and relaxation techniques, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling.

M2E practitioner Davinia says: “Art making has been a useful tool for helping children access and express difficult memories. Using materials that allow a child or young person to make mess, should they want to, creates a freedom to access these memories and to begin to make sense of them.”

Roz adds, “Talk about how characters feel in films and books, why and what they could do about it. This way a child or young person will learn not to judge their emotions but to acknowledge and express them usefully.” Whether it’s through art or a different creative outlet, help a young person explore their feelings and let them know you’re there for them.

5. Encourage them to stay positive and motivated

Sometimes it helps to step back from it all and be hopeful about the future, no matter the outcome. This may involve helping them reflect on key learnings or what could have gone better, but more importantly, encouraging them to celebrate and plan some fun activities they can look forward to.

Head tutor at EDS Education, Elle, was pleased to find so many of her students receiving high grades in their exams, however, one student didn’t get the exact grade she wanted. “The advice I would give is not to be disappointed and understand that everything is a learning process. You need to think and reflect on your grades. Ask yourself why did this happen? What could you have done differently to better your grade? Did you plan your revision timetable? Once you’ve answered these kind of questions, you can take your next step in further education.”

What’s more, studies show that positive mindset yields a higher sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, as well as practising self-determination and having a sense of control over one’s life. Director of Kineara, Maria Morgan, says: “There’s nothing stronger than recognising and accepting where you are to move forward.”

Posted by kineara
Overcoming exam stress: How engaged parents can support pupil wellbeing

Overcoming exam stress: How engaged parents can support pupil wellbeing

27 May 2019

With exam season underway and pressures mounting on pupils and teachers, we explore the role of parents in supporting their child’s wellbeing and academic achievement. 

Whether it’s creating a supportive environment at home, establishing a love for learning, or cultivating a child’s natural talents, one thing remains constant: parents can play a vital role in their child’s educational journey in and out of school.

Research shows that the emphasis on academic attainment in schools and the wider education system is having a negative impact on pupil wellbeing, with 80% of young people saying that exam pressure has significantly impacted on their mental health. Moreover, a recent survey found exam and school-related pressure to be the greatest cause of concern among parents.

But it’s not just pressure from school and the wider challenges that young people face, from social pressure to low self-esteem. We’ve seen how problems at home, breakdown in relationships and/or family pressure, can intensify stress during exam season. Elle Pareshan, Head tutor at EDS Education and mum of two, who works closely with children and their families has witnessed some of these pressures first-hand.

“Parents have such an important role when it comes to supporting their kids with exams. Some parents, however, are unaware of what their kids are learning and how much is really expected of them, but still expect them to do well. So, it’s important for parents to understand what’s involved with exams, what kids have to learn and the increasing pressures pupils are facing.

With key stage 4 maths, for example, students are having to learn some content from A Level modules. In English, students are having to memorise quotes from several different books and use them in their exams. As a parent, it’s important not to place too much pressure or expectation on your kids – this can often have the opposite effect and impact negatively on their grades.” she says.

In some cases even the term ‘exams’ or any mention of exams can risk piling on the pressure: “If schools, especially primary schools, run tests without pupils feeling that it’s the final assessment then it could make a real difference. Exams are essential I think, but if we explored an alternative form of assessment or didn’t use the word ‘SATs’ then we could really help those pupils who feel pressured.”

The link between emotional wellbeing and academic attainment

Further evidence shows how pupil and teacher, and parent and child wellbeing are often closely interlinked, and this is something we’ve seen in the schools we’ve worked in. In our work, we’ve also seen how a good level of emotional wellbeing correlates to higher academic attainment.

Senel had been concerned about her daughter Chelsey’s engagement in school for some time before learning about Kineara’s Motivate to Educate (M2E) programme. “I spoke to the school and found out that she was stressed,” explains Senel, “there were problems going on with girls and all sorts and this was affecting her schoolwork. It got to a stage where enough was enough.”

Soon after, Chelsey began seeing Roz, our M2E practitioner based in Harrington Hill Primary School, who started working through exercises and showing her different communication and relaxation techniques. Roz explains how the programme offered individual and group sessions with her peers at school, but also sessions with her mum and the whole family.

“Roz came to the house a few times which was ideal as it helped us grow closer as a family. When she was here, everyone was getting on with everyone. There was no bickering, no arguments. Chelsey could sit down and express her feelings to Roz and talk about her day at school,” says Senel.

At home, they would play games, watch movies and talk about their feelings, which strengthened relationships within the family and allowed everyone to express themselves freely. Reflecting on a game that used skittles as a starter for talking about how they were feeling, Senel adds: “It was really good as it made Chelsey open up about stuff as well. Every now and again, we play that game ourselves. Chelsey can express the way she feels, and her sister can listen to the way she expresses herself. It’s a fantastic game!”

Senel believes that spending time with her daughter and working closely with practitioner Roz and the school has had a transformative impact on Chelsey, including her grades. “If you see how she was in the beginning. Not that she wouldn’t speak to us, she just found it hard to express herself.” explains Senel. “She used to come home, and she’d slam doors… She wouldn’t interact, she wouldn’t talk about her problems, and she would just make every excuse up not to go to school.

“Now, Chelsey has opened up and learnt how to express herself. The stuff Roz has shown her, she’s like a completely different child. She got high grades in her exams, even the teachers have noticed the change in her, it’s amazing!”

While the school has a duty in creating a supportive environment for pupils, the impact of parents cannot be overlooked. “Parents and teachers who work side by side in the best interest of the kids, can have make a huge difference to their wellbeing and academic attainment – and this creates positive outcomes at home and school. and It’s a win-win situation!” says Elle.

M2E works with pupils aged 4–18 to explore their understanding of education and build on their ambitions. Its success lies in its ability to engage families, teachers and anyone else important to a young person’s learning and aspirations. Find out more about M2E and our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Latest
The pressures of exam season: Is there more that can be done in schools to tackle this?

The pressures of exam season: Is there more that can be done in schools to tackle this?

14 May 2019

High stakes exams are increasingly causing stress and anxiety in children as young as six, with teachers and parents also feeling the pressure. We believe that a more holistic, joined up support approach is needed in schools, to aid everyone involved in working through this demanding period.

It’s that time of year again.

Growing levels of anxiety, an increased workload for pupils and teachers, and a greater focus on academic attainment over wellbeing in schools, are just some of the reported challenges being faced by pupils and teachers alike.

Exam related stress is, according to a recent survey by the children’s charity Barnado’s, the greatest cause of concern among parents. Moreover, a survey by Girlguiding found 69% of respondents aged 11-21 cited exams as their main cause of stress.

Further evidence shows that the emphasis on exams and academic attainment in schools and the wider education system is having a negative impact on wellbeing, with 80% of young people saying that exam pressure has significantly impacted on their mental health.

The wider challenges that young people face today, from the pressures of a 24-hour digital world to a lack of specialist support and low self-esteem, is also having an impact on emotional wellbeing, in turn affecting the way they approach exams. For some, challenges at home and/or family pressure to do well, can add even further stress during exam season.

Have exam reforms contributed to pupil anxiety? 

In some cases, increasing pressures appear to be surfacing amid the backdrop of government changes to GCSE and A Levels, such as scrapping modules and the majority of coursework, as well as the new 9-1 GCSE grading.

The linear qualifications have reduced stress for pupils because scrapping modules means “fewer stressful periods”, not more, according to Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.

Except the reality for many teachers and school leaders – contrary to Hinds’ claims – is that linear exams have contributed to an even more high-stakes and stressful exam period. To this point, some teachers have argued that stockpiling exam pressure for a few months, especially for SEND students, is not inclusive to the varied needs of children.

The challenges of exam season

Worryingly, reports of pupils crying, vomiting and having nightmares due to exam pressure have even emerged in primary schools. A poll of teachers last year revealed children having nightmares and becoming sick from anxiety after tougher SATs, with many arguing that we need to prepare children for life and not just exams.

Alongside this, education experts, psychotherapists and campaigners have warned that the Government’s plans to introduce baseline assessments for four-year-olds will put undue stress on children, causing “enormous damage” to children’s learning and development. The More Than A Score Coalition have argued, among other things, that it is not necessary to test them at that age – an age of general emotional fragility – and that pupils can often pick up on the stress of adults, including teachers under pressure.

Zak, a member of the Youth Panel at YoungMinds, works closely with children at Sebright Primary School, in Hackney, East London, as a near-peer learning mentor and role model undertaking City Year UK’s Leadership Development Programme. He believes that compulsory testing for 7 and 11-year-olds doesn’t do justice to capturing the capability of his mentees and was personally excited to hear Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to scrap SATs for good, while consulting parents and teachers for an alternative system of assessment and trusting teachers’ overall evaluation of their students in place of a dogmatic, test-driven system.

Reflecting on his experience, he said: “Our school thankfully recognises the holistic needs of children and facilitates our work developing pupils’ wellbeing and sociability, in turn impacting positively in classroom interventions.

But the rigorous culture of testing doesn’t let children be children. Even a more able Year 6 pupil this week shyly confided in me that our daily morning chats and playground games together is solely what she looked forward to everyday during the pressure of SATs preparations.

And while I understand that SATs are used to hold schools to account in league tables, many teachers say that the results don’t tell them anything they didn’t already know about their students’ abilities. Not only that, but one thing is for sure: the life skills, ingenious creativity and unique personality of each and every child I work with could never be relayed though a test score.”

Pupil and teacher wellbeing is closely linked 

Further research shows that teachers are also under constant pressure to perform, often without the resources and support needed to do their job. These challenges include managing a demanding workload, dealing with behavioural problems and meeting targets relating to pupil attainment – all of which are taking a toll on their mental health and wellbeing.  This is backed by last year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index which highlighted a “stress epidemic” and rising mental health issues within the teaching profession – and this is heightened during exam season.

Moreover, pupil and teacher wellbeing can be, and is often closely linked, and this is something we’ve seen in the schools we’ve worked in. Children can often pick up on the stress of adults which affects their own confidence and motivation in school.

Conversely, teachers who are dealing with their own challenges can often feel overstretched in dealing with challenges such as classroom misbehaviour, or pressure to identify mental health issues in pupils, which means early intervention isn’t always possible. To this point, the National Union of Teachers revealed that a staggering 93% of teachers agreed that their stress levels “sometimes impact” on the way they interact with pupils.

We need a whole-school approach to wellbeing  

Whether you’re an advocate of modular or linear assessment, abolishing or retaining SATs, many of us will agree that exams are inherently stressful. It has been argued, however, that exams in some ways provide an ideal opportunity for pupils to develop resilience, learn how to cope with challenge and prepare them for later life. The key issue is “whether students feel supported”, chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor has claimed.

Roz Head, former Motivate to Educate practitioner, highlighted the importance of helping pupils acknowledge their stress and supporting them in the run-up to exams. “I think the most important message is that no emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s what you do with it that counts. Letting a child know that we all feel worried, angry or sad sometimes and letting them accept these feelings without judgement is a real gift.”

Specifically, Roz had seen the difference it made in supporting and engaging teachers and parents, in understanding the wider context, getting to the ground root of the issue and achieving better outcomes for everyone. What’s more, by giving teachers and parents the space and time to focus on their own wellbeing, she witnessed a positive correlation on the wellbeing of pupils. In the case of Senel and Chelsey, who took part in M2E, we can also see a clear link between wellbeing and higher academic attainment.

Teachers have also seen the impact that joined-up, wraparound support brings to the whole school community, from intensive programmes for pupils, practical and therapeutic guidance for parents to wellbeing care for school staff. Kirstie Barrett, Head of Harrington Hill Primary, said: “Kineara’s success in building trust is very unique. They attend community events regularly, join Parent/Teacher Consultation evenings, and attend meetings between staff and parents when there is a SEND or pastoral need or just a benefit in doing so, so they are visible and approachable to the whole community.”

Whilst the education system ought to give greater prominence to wellbeing in education, schools also have a vital role in creating supportive and inclusive environments where there are opportunities for pupils to overcome challenges, but also to ask for help. And with evidence pointing to both a pupil and teacher mental health crisis, a joined up, whole-school support approach is needed now more than ever.

Find out more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Community, Education, Latest, Research