For the headteacher of Kensington Primary School, in Newham, London, wellbeing is not about add-ons – it is central to its culture.
And in a school that wishes to be “a place where everyone wants to be”, that culture permeates everything, including the curriculum.
Headteacher Ben Levinson, who sat on a task force dedicated to improving the wellbeing of UK educators and has worked with the Department for Education to provide support to headteachers in creating a wellbeing culture, decided to counteract the school’s challenges with a new curriculum.
Named Curriculum K, the new programme puts children’s physical and mental health first. For example, the health science curriculum teaches children why it is important to stay healthy and how to be healthy.
“In 2018, Newham had the lowest life expectancy and the highest rate of heart disease of all London boroughs. A December 2019 report showed that one in 12 Newham children is homeless.
“With many children living in cramped, often temporary accommodation, opportunities for exercise and nutrition are limited,” the school’s submission for the Tes Schools Awards reads. “Curriculum K challenges this.”
There is also an emotional health curriculum and teachers undertake intensive emotional coaching training. This helps children to learn to recognise and name a spectrum of emotions and how to deal with them when they arise.
And if children are well looked after at the school, so are staff. The final assessment of the school by the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in School reads: “The wellbeing of staff is paramount...the school has stripped away all activities for staff that are unnecessary.”
Speaking to a conference on wellbeing and workload, Mr Levinson made the point clear. He said: “Of course, I’m not suggesting that we don’t make sacrifices for the children. We all do and we all should.
“It’s about when those sacrifices become counter-productive; when the belief that marking till the small hours has a greater impact than turning up energised the next day; when workload drives another great teacher out of the profession.”
The lead judge for the wellbeing and mental health award, clinical psychologist Dr Tara Porter, said: “Schools are redefining their own purpose knowing that the relentless pursuit of exams at all cost leaves many kids either disenfranchised or riddled with anxiety.
“I found myself many times having a tear in my eye when I read the submissions, and often went on the schools’ websites to read more about what they were doing.”
She praised Kensington Primary School’s wellbeing ethos, and the headteacher’s “enormous efforts”, adding: “He’s really looked at how to rethink the whole curriculum, to put the wellbeing of the children at the centre of what they do.”