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Westbury “pulling together” for children’s mental health

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Westbury schools have been praised by parents and governors for their efforts and support for children during the pandemic. 

It comes at a time when nationally there is concern for children and young people’s mental health due to schools being closed, the pressures of homeschooling, children not being able to see their friends and socialise and take part in clubs and groups.

Westbury and village schools were doing an “amazing” job, father-of-three, Leander Morales told White Horse News. And Matravers School was “brilliant” and an example to others, said local mum, Leanne Harris.

Headteacher of Westbury Junior School and himself a father-of-three, sharing home learning duties, Richard Hatt, told White Horse News that area heads had “wellbeing” as a monthly standing item on their agenda.

Speaking for them collectively he told White Horse News, “I think two realities have come to the fore for families and in particular their children. 

“Firstly for the vast majority of children they have realised that they really do quite like school. They miss their friendships, socialising, the joy of a challenge. Whether it is to write a story to the best of their ability, to puzzle over a maths challenge or to learn a new sport/art/ topic which they have never come across before – but to do this together, in a buzz of a classroom. One parent described the months of isolation as ‘depressing’ for her child. I do not think this is over stating the point.

“Westbury is a town which is relatively safe and parents are often happy for their children to play in the street or in the closest green space. Parents see their children ‘cooped’ and some will crack and let their children out to play. All schools have had to recommend that families self isolate individuals after we have become aware of these breaches of social distancing.”

Richard continued, “The second reality is that all parents have been through a school system but it is perhaps only now that they are fully appreciate the complexity of teaching. Children now realise that their parents are not teachers, their living room is not a classroom. 

“Schools in Westbury have strived to provide varied remote learning opportunities  and have worked at the same time in delivering the ‘normal’ lessons to, on average, the 25% of the school population which are in school under the key worker and vulnerable banner.

“There are various stories of parents enjoying the opportunity to become involved in schoolwork but there are also as many who are finding after all these months, that the children are increasingly demotivated. 

“For the area heads, children’s disengagement is our single greatest concern. The waning of the joy of learning will be a huge challenge for schools as, when lockdown eventually does finish, we try and ignite the children once more.”

Adults in the family home were also suffering with the isolation, bringing added tensions to family life which must take its toll on the children, Richard added.

“We are having increasing calls to have children in school not because they are keyworker children but for respite,  which we really understand. But our primary aim must be to keep staff and pupil numbers to the minimum in school. “Home is the safest place to be,” he stressed.

As a result, local schools are offering families additional resources to get them through these times, whether it be contact with food banks, additional curriculum advice, the engagement of family support workers or the giving and leasing of hardware to increase IT capabilities at home. 

Richard said, “For some we have signposted them to outside agencies for more specialist involvement as the families who are under severe strain need, albeit temporarily, additional help. This need is on the increase.

“Overall the picture remains positive, only because a great number of people within Westbury are working together to make the current national despondency bearable. From my position I thank the wonderful people of Westbury for pulling together for the benefit of the children of my and the schools of Westbury.”

Dilton Marsh Primary School headteacher, Jill Hibbs, echoed that they had been trying to meet the needs of families struggling with homeschooling.

“We have conducted surveys and have found the majority are positive with our offer,” Jill told White Horse News.  

“Where parents have been struggling we have contacted them and adapted our plans so that it is manageable.  

“We are very aware of how hard it is to manage a normal home life, work and home schooling.  We have tried to keep our live lessons to the same time each day, with timetables so that lessons don’t clash with different year groups.”

At other times, parents are provided with a suggested timetable for learning, Jill said.  

“We are introducing a ‘Well Being afternoon’ and giving the parents suggested activities to try to complete.  These activities aren’t school based, but are things the whole family can do, for example they can go to the White Horse and identify the furthest point they can see, or they could make a picture from natural things found in their garden.  “We are hoping this will take some of the stress off parents who are struggling.”

School governors

Chair of governors at Westbury Junior School, and academy councillor at Dilton Marsh Primary School, Ian Cunningham, reiterated that children’s mental health was an issue of which schools are very aware and are tackling with their best efforts. 

“I’d like to congratulate teachers, other staff and schools for how hard they are working to support pupils and their families and much innovative work to include pupils at a distance; only last week Matravers’ music department, who have been so supportive of the town’s festival, invited me as festival chair, to listen to a music project worked on by pupils and streamed through the school’s ‘radio’ station,” Ian said.

“I think the key message, as a governor, that I would pass on is to encourage parents to talk to the school (and other professionals) about issues their children might face. The people in our schools care very greatly about your children’s mental wellbeing at all times and even more so when situations are clearly so difficult for many; they want to help.”

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