Mental health is:
- How we think and feel about ourselves and others.
- How we interpret events and cope with change, transition and life events.
- How we learn and communicate.
- How we form, sustain and end relationships.
(The World Health Organisation (WHO))
At Hedgewood we are committed to ensuring the positive wellbeing and mental health for the school community including all pupils and staff so we can learn successfully for life, as well as develop and maintain positive relationships amongst ourselves.
We have 3 trained Mental Health First Aiders for pupils and staff who can support where necessary. They work in collaboration with the Designated Safeguarding lead, Family Services and Class teachers to promote the safeguarding of all the pupils and their families. The whole school approach for positive mental health also includes support for pupils from the therapies offered such as, Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy and Creative Arts as well as developing Emotional Regulation and Social Understanding through the curriculum pathways with a focus on developing resilience and understanding social and emotional learning.
Hedgewood PSHE and wellbeing curriculum is a fundamental part of facilitating the development of children and aims to meet the needs of all individual pupils. SEND pupils may be at an increased risk regarding different aspects of their health and wellbeing, which increases their vulnerability and ability in keeping themselves safe. Pupils are actively taught about resilience and mental health, with techniques to promote positive mental health and wellbeing through mindfulness and other strategies such as Yoga, outdoor learning and meditation, as well as emphasising the link between good physical and mental health.
Mental Health & Wellbeing is needs-based and adaptive. Teaching is centred on promoting pupil’s wellbeing, resilience, and social understanding, it includes these key elements:
- Routine: Ensuring our days are based on a routine, are structured and are predictable. “Reality to an autistic person is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights… Set routines, times, particular routes and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. Trying to keep everything the same reduces some of the terrible fear.” (Jolliffe (1992) in Howlin (2004), p.137)
- Developing communication through identifying Alternative Methods of Speaking (AMS): for children who are preverbal or becoming verbal. Each child has their own method of speaking that is appropriate to them. A pupil’s method of speaking could be picture communication systems, communication belts, communication books, signing, electronic communication systems such as Proloquo2go. When an identified method of speaking is successful the identified communication system encourages and helps children who are becoming verbal and provides a means of communication for pupils who do not become verbal. As a result of helping the child to communicate, frustration reduces and therefore this strategy can also help with promoting emotional well-being.
- Essential 8 (E8) skills development: The Essential 8 skills assessment is a baseline assessment for every pupil. Essential 8 skills are: Making requests; Waiting; Accepting removals; making transitions; sharing and turn taking; Completing 10 consecutive, brief previously acquired tasks; Accepting ‘no’; Following directions related to health and safety; Completing daily living skills related to health and safety; Tolerating situations related to health and safety. We understand that pupils who don’t have E8 skills are more at risk of developing challenging behaviour and have reduced life opportunities. The use of E8 assessment has been supported by a research project conducted by Dr Heather Armstrong a clinical Psychologist from Hillingdon CAMHS LD team with support from a Warwick University. The research carried out in 2019-2020 showed that the E8 was a good predictor of which pupils would or wouldn’t have challenging behaviour. Children who had low E8 scores had high levels of challenging behaviour. The study has been written up and submitted to the International Journal of Positive Behaviour Support. Hedgewood use the E8 assessment to identify curriculum pathways for pupils. For some pupils they may need small specific interventions to support the development of the skills where other pupils will follow Essential for Living curriculum pathway.
- Physical Exercise: the importance of physical activity for well-being. In PE, sport, exercises and games are used to develop co-ordination, strength, control, and movement as well as social understanding. Well-being through moving freely for pleasure is promoted through activities such as dance, yoga and Thai Chi.
- Mindfulness practises including mediation and yoga allow pupils time away from academic work. Mindfulness is defined as an intervention which aims to help a person examine their current moment in a non-judgemental and accepting way. It is often used to reduce stress and anxiety and can support a person to respond to a situation in a less emotional way and therefore deal with distressing situations better. (Fleming et al 2015).
- Developing a sensory tool box or sensory diet: These are collection of sensory strategies which support self-regulation. The tool box should be based on the sensory preferences/activities and should be available to access throughout the day. These tend to be directed by an Occupational Therapist. They are aimed at giving children access to the additional Sensory stimulation that their bodies are craving. There are a variety of ways in which we do this – through offering access to a sensory circuit, or through using particular equipment in the classroom to help the child concentrate. In responding to the sensory demands that the children and young people have we again promote emotional and physical wellbeing.
- Intensive Interaction is an approach (devised by Dave Hewitt PhD and Melony Nind PhD) used to build and support students use and understanding of communication and social skills as part of everyday life. Use of this strategy teaches the children to enjoy being with other people, to relate, interact and to know communication routines. Intensive Interaction aims to teach the basic fundamentals of communication as well as helping sociability, cognitive abilities and emotional well-being. The approach is based on research around how we develop the early communication skills upon which all of our relationships, knowledge and expertise as human beings are founded. But most of all, it’s an enjoyable learning opportunity for both parties! At Hedgewood we actively engage in Intensive Interaction at every opportunity across the whole school, either as a structured session or in an impromptu situation. As a result of the children learning that engaging is fun, they are building the stepping stones for communication. In receiving reciprocal positive interaction, the children’s well-being will be further promoted.
- TEACCH: is a system that helps to structure the day and the environment in a very visual way to help Children and young people to understand what is happening to them. It is based on the premise that the children often appear to find day to day life challenging and anxiety-inducing because they do not understand what is happening to them. This is often compounded by their inability to generalise – so they will not predict that things will happen in this way because they always have done before. The visual structures and symbols result in the children being able to remain calmer and promote emotional well-being and independence. It is a key way for parents and staff to communicate with their children.
- Zones of Regulation is used to teach self-regulation by categorising all the different ways we feel and states of alertness we experience into four concrete coloured zones. Zones provide strategies to teach students to become more aware of and independent in identifying their emotions and impulses; managing their sensory needs; managing their feelings; responding to difficult situations. There are three stages in teaching this at Hedgewood; Stage 1- identifying how you feel; Stage 2- experimenting with methods to change how you feel; Stage 3- regulating how you feel.
- Our Connect PSHE curriculum is specifically designed to support children to engage in the six wellbeing behaviours. The termly themes are derived from the psychological wellbeing literature, and specifically the work of Dr Geetanjali Basarkod. Dr Basarkod’s PhD thesis expanded on the work of the New Economics Foundation by empirically showing that psychologically healthy people tend to engage in 6 behaviours, and our curriculum is built around them , these are:
- Connecting with others – this involves having healthy social relationships.
- Challenging oneself – this involves continually trying to improve via learning.
- Giving to others – this involves spending time and resources helping our fellow human beings.
- Exercising – this involves engaging in physical activity.
- Embracing the moment – this involves mindfully interacting with our thoughts and feelings.
- Self-care – this involves looking after oneself, such as through healthy eating and improved sleep quality.
Through termly topics focused on the healthy wellbeing habits the curriculum aims to build the four core DNA-V skills. Discoverer skills is about learning to explore the environment in a fun and open way. Noticer skills is about contacting and labelling experiences in the present moment. Advisor skill is about weighing up the reasons for and against pursuing a particular course of action. Values skill is about identifying the qualities we want to reflect in our behaviour. The skills tend to be impacted by thoughts about ourselves and others. Our CONNECT PSHE curriculum aims to support pupils to adopt a more flexible view of these concepts.
- Teaching Social understanding/Social Context assists in the achievement of our aims around Communication and independence, due to the ways in which these aspects are all interrelated, and have a resulting impact on emotional wellbeing. This supports the academic achievement of the pupils, who will be in a better position to learn if they are feeling less anxious. This is an integral part of the whole curriculum, building social learning throughout the curriculum and view every opportunity that is presented as an opportunity to teach and learn – in order for us to be able to do this we need all staff to feel that they have the confidence to use the strategies. Social understanding and personalised social, emotional and mental health targets embedded in each pupils personalised Individual Learning Plan set out the skills needed to become more resilient individuals.
- Social Stories, Social Articles and Concept Cartoons (Developed by Carol Gray): These strategies aid the development of Social thinking, understanding and skills as well as supporting emotional wellbeing. A Social Story/Social Article accurately describes a situation, skill, or concept according to 10 defining criteria. These criteria guide Story/Article development to ensure an overall patient and supportive quality, format, “voice”, and relevant content that is descriptive, meaningful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the Audience. A Comic Strip Conversation incorporates the use of simple drawings. It places an emphasis on what people say, do, and think. It uses symbols and colour to clarify communication and improve comprehension. As such it is a really useful tool to not only help us explain social situations more accurately but also understand how the children and young people may be thinking and where we may need to focus teaching or correct misunderstanding.
- Attention Autism / Attention Hedgewood: The school has been working closely with Gina Davis, who is the creator of Attention Autism. It focuses on making sure that we have truly engaging experiences which the children enjoy, to enable us to build strong relationships across the whole class group, through shared experiences. Attention Autism can help children to gain skills in toleration of, and engagement with, an adult led agenda. The video evidence that we have collected shows that the strategies used have helped enable children to use their visual learning strengths to access an intervention that generates the motivation for functional, meaningful and spontaneous communication skills.
- Outdoor Learning: Through outdoor learning we can foster deeper relationships with each other and the world around us. Outdoor learning is an integral part of our curriculum and timetabled weekly with the aim of taking the classroom outside, giving pupils direct experiences with the outdoors both on and offsite. We use our grounds including garden areas and environmental areas including the poly-tunnel. Outdoor Education helps to promote a positive attitude to learning and forms an important part of our school ethos. The benefits this brings include: developing personal growth and social awareness; building confidence and self-esteem; personal and social development including qualities such as care, tolerance, the ability to trust and the willingness to give and accept support; physical and mental health and fitness and developing understanding appreciation, awe, wonder and respect for the world around us.