Southwick Primary takes a lead in mental health with pilot programme

Teachers and pupils from Southwick Community Primary School

A Sunderland school’s pioneering work to support the mental health needs of pupils and their parents has taken another step forward this Mental Health Awareness Week (May 8th to 14th) with the launch of a pilot scheme to support families with children who are about to start their first year of primary school.

Southwick Community Primary School, which won a prestigious national Wellbeing in Schools Award for its work in mental health in 2016, is the first school to take part in the programme.

The ‘Getting Ready for School’ pilot, which was created by Paula Nagel and Sharon Cole, and supported by Maria Clarke of the mental health charity Place2Be aims to provide emotional support for young children about to make the move from nursery into their first year at primary school.

Helen Ellison, Deputy Headteacher and Mental Health Lead at Southwick Community Primary, said: “For many young children, the thought of moving up into primary school can be very daunting. The pilot scheme we’re embarking on in the summer term aims to provide support and guidance to parents so they can help prepare their children emotionally for the start of the school year in September.

“The importance of preparing a child emotionally for their very first experience of school can make all the difference to their education in the years ahead and we’re thrilled to be the first school to take part in this pilot programme.”

Southwick Community Primary has long prioritised supporting the emotional wellbeing of pupils, parents and staff, committing to promoting positive mental health across the school community.

Among a number of support services available, children are encouraged to share any worries or concerns at informal drop in sessions, a service which almost 150 children have used in this school year, and provided with coping strategies to manage their concerns.

The school’s work in mental health also extends to a wide range of support for parents, who can take advantage of the Place2Be parent counselling service available at the school or just drop in for support and advice on the wider services available to support emotional health.

Helen Ellison added: “It is important to the school that we forge good relationships with our families and the wider community. We have to acknowledge that adults go through difficult times too, be it divorce or bereavement, and many of our parents use our services, coming to us for support and advice.”

Simon Marshall, Director of Education at Together for Children, which works on behalf of Sunderland City Council to deliver children’s services in the city, said: “The teachers and support staff at Southwick Community Primary School continue to do a fantastic job at putting mental health awareness at the heart of the curriculum in a way that is accessible and supportive for children, their parents and staff alike, and the launch of this pilot scheme marks another step forward.

“It’s hugely important that through our education system we promote the message that it’s ok to talk about worries, concerns and our emotional wellbeing. Only by doing this will we take steps towards ending the stigma surrounding mental health that stops people getting the support that they need.”

Sunderland City Council’s Director of Public Health, Gillian Gibson added: “Raising people’s awareness of mental health issues and increasing their acceptance of the need for help and support plus their knowledge of where it is available is vital.

“The pioneering work at Southwick Community Primary School is a great example to us all of what can be achieved, and I hope sets an example for others to follow.

“We all need to work together to provide children and their families with support to meet their individual mental health and emotional needs, and help them lead healthier and happier lives.”      

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