Any teacher knows that schools are emotionally-charged places. With large numbers of adolescents traversing the hazards of not only their schoolwork but also puberty, bullying and first relationships, it is hardly surprising that stress levels in students are at such high levels.
In the 8 June edition of Tes, Clare Erasmus, head of mental wellbeing at Brighton Hill School, argues that pop-up “safe spaces” could be the best way to support students' wellbeing.
“I would argue that we should meticulously plan, put into action and maintain safe spaces in our schools,” she says. “A safe space in school is one where a young person has some control over what happens next; where, for a few moments, they can press 'pause' and gather their emotions; somewhere they feel less threatened and overwhelmed by what is happening; a place where, if they want to talk to someone without fear of being judged or exposed, they can.”
Erasmus outlines the various forms these safe spaces, or "wellbeing zones" can take. Examples include the “anti-bullying room”, “the gay/straight alliance space”, “the young carers’ space” and a “Year 7-only playground”.
However, she stresses that these suggestions for what has worked in some schools are not universal: “You should assess the needs of your student body and respond accordingly, pulling in volunteers and external agencies where appropriate, but also giving power to students where possible.”
Many of the initiatives have been led or supported by students, and Erasmus stresses the importance of peer support through “student ambassadors”. This will also encourage other students to use the resources.
“I urge student ambassadors and staff to give assemblies talking about these rooms. They must also give the young person, on entry, a warm welcome, invite them in and quickly settle them down to see if they need support and, if so, what kind,” she writes.
Erasmus also points out that “The location of the wellbeing zone matters. It is important that it is seen as something separate from the special educational needs and disability space because we need to recognise that having a mental wellbeing challenge does not always equate with a learning need. It needs to be destigmatised in schools and given its own signposting and space.”
With all these factors in mind, Erasmus believes that wellbeing zones can be extremely effective additions to improving the student experience at break- and lunchtimes. Additionally, she has seen “a knock-on impact in class. This calming time spent feeling valued, supported and recognised will help settle the student for afternoon activities and can also help the student to remain focused in the morning, as they know they have somewhere to go at lunch.”
Ultimately, wellbeing zones will only work if they are “embedded into school culture” – and Erasmus has managed to make that happen at her school.
To read this article in full, pick up a copy of the 8 June issue of Tes from your local newsagent or subscribe to read online