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Innovative practice - Massage with a message

Shiatsu therapy sessions with a trained teacher are helping pupils to relax during the stressful exam period

Shiatsu therapy sessions with a trained teacher are helping pupils to relax during the stressful exam period

The background

Teachers at Ysgol y Preseli in Pembrokeshire do everything they can to take the stress out of examinations for their pupils.

To get as much experience of exam conditions as possible, pupils in every year group take exams in all subjects every Christmas, and additionally Years 7, 8 and 9 sit tests every summer.

The school already runs an extensive personal, health and social education curriculum, including an annual "health day" for Year 10 pupils, but headteacher Michael Davies wanted to give Year 10 and 11 pupils preparing for GCSEs extra help to relax and de-stress before their exams.

"Pupils are sitting modular exams throughout the term, and some are becoming very anxious and stressed because of the demands and expectations on them," he says.

Fortunately, the school's part-time Spanish tutor Anna Jones is also a trained practitioner of the Japanese relaxation therapy shiatsu.

The project

About 160 Year 10 pupils took part in a shiatsu relaxation session last October as part of their health day, with a follow-up "sailing through stress" class for Year 11 pupils.

The school is not the first to offer massages to its pupils to reduce their stress - others, including Lilian Baylis in London, have tried this approach too. But what separates Ysgol y Preseli is that it has a staff member who studied shiatsu in Japan.

"What I offer the pupils is a little 'window of quietness' to support all they are being asked to achieve," Jones says.

"I invite pupils to be aware of their posture and breathing, and teach them simple relaxation techniques, which is one of the keys to helping them grow up in a balanced and well-rounded way. This could help them in all aspects of life - concentration, emotional and physical balance and self-confidence."

Tips from the scheme

Try to prepare pupils for exams as much as possible, with mock exams, practice sessions and relaxation techniques, so the real thing is less daunting.

Be especially aware of your pupils' mental health and well-being around exam time.

Talk to them about their well-being and find out how they are feeling and what you can do to help them relax.

Evidence that it works?

The idea proved so popular that weekly sessions for Year 10 and 11 pupils have been introduced, along with fortnightly sessions for staff. The school was also given an innovative practice award by heads' union ASCL Cymru.

Davies says: "Pupils are now far more confident and relaxed about their exams."

The project

Approach: Using shiatsu to relax pupils before exams

Started: 2011

Leader: Michael Davies, headteacher, and Anna Jones, part-time Spanish tutor

The school

Name: Ysgol y Preseli

Location: Pembrokeshire, Wales

Pupils: 1,000

Age range: 11-18

Intake: As the only Welsh-medium school in Pembrokeshire, Preseli attracts pupils from across the county. But 75 per cent of pupils come from non Welsh speaking homes.

Estyn overall rating: Very good with many outstanding features (2008).

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