On Friday I attended the Mental Health in Education Conference in London which was organised by the International Positive Education Network (IPEN).
The day consisted of an array of inspirational speakers from a variety of backgrounds – from authors to clinicians. There were also some amazing trade stands offering a range of tools and techniques that could be used in schools to build character, self-confidence, personal awareness, regulate behaviour and foster optimism and resilience.
Sir Anthony Seldon was our chair for the day and he got things off to a mindful start by getting us to take a few deep breaths and bring ourselves into the present moment. He then went straight into a vibrant welcome and kick-started the programme of speakers.
Getting young people to ‘flourish’ in education was the theme of the day and not just in an academic sense! This was music to my ears as so many of my students tell me they do not feel valued when they are not academically minded.
The speakers covered topics such as:
- Promoting good mental health for all
- A happiness focus needs to be a goal for all schools
- Nurturing students to flourish and succeed
- Having a balanced approach around measurements, not just about academia
- Life skills to be taught in school at least once a week possibly in the PHSE slot
- All schools to have a wellbeing code that includes teachers, students and parents
- More communication, support and connection between parents, students and teachers
- Every school to have a senior teacher in charge of mental health
- All teachers to have basic mental health training
- Parents and teachers to encourage young people to have more of a sense of belonging around their education
- Positive psychology advocates wellbeing and healthy mental health
The speakers of the day were:
- Sir Professor Simon Wessely – President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists
- Julia Samuel MBE – Author of Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving
- Dr Lucy Hone – Author of Resilient Grieving
- Professor Lord Richard Layard – Director of Wellbeing Programme, LSE
- David Halpern – Chief Executive, Behavioural Insights Team
- Dr Abdulla Al Karam – Director General of KHDA Dubai
- Dr Raj Chande – Behavioural Insights Team, Cabinet Office
- Professor James Arthur – Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues
- Dr Mario Piacentini – Economist/OECD
- Jamie Bristow – Director at The Mindfulness Initiative
- Richard Burnett – Co-Founder and Director, Mindfulness in Schools Project (MISB)
- Dr Martin Seligman – Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology; Director Positive Psychology Centre University of Pennsylvania
The main points that I took away from the day are:
- The core curriculum needs to include educating young people to develop healthy wellbeing, life satisfaction and happiness.
- Shifting the focus in education to what students can do rather than what they can’t
- Working with what fascinates and what is familiar with students to improve engagement in the classroom
- Injecting more fun into education
- Young people need to be taught about healthy mental health from a young age to help them develop optimism and reduce helplessness
- Mental health prevention is better than cure and leads to less suffering and cost
Finally there were two other speakers who were my absolute favourites and they were Naomi Lea and George Fielding from the #iwill campaign.
Naomi spoke about her own struggle with panic and anxiety and said she had received fantastic support from Childline. She confirmed that being involved with the #iwill project and volunteering is what made the difference. It helped her to develop new skills, confidence and overcome her anxiety. Standing up and being able to talk to us all on Friday at the conference was an amazing achievement, she was utterly inspirational.
George is a philosophy student and #iwill ambassador. He is also ‘on wheels’ as he puts it, and a definite entertainer. He said that education does not encourage students to be individual or to learn from each other. He wants students to be who they want to be and be educated how they want to be educated and they need to shout for that change. He was passionate, inspiring and captivating, he brought tears of pride to my eyes and also had lots of us on our feet when he had finished.
Life has not been easy for George or Naomi and they have overcome their challenges whilst helping others and contributing to their communities. How amazing is that!
I had an awe-inspiring day listening to outstanding speakers and learning lots about how we can all make a difference to young people in education. I can’t wait to see what happens next regarding what the influential speakers from Friday’s event do to implement change around mental health in education.
If you were at the event on Friday I would love to hear your comments so please feel free to contact me.