Why our school decided to prioritise mental wellbeing – and what happened as a result

Schools and academies, Primary schools

by Holly Pottle, Deputy Headteacher of Thomas Arnold Primary School in Dagenham, which recently became a Thrive Ambassador School with Excellence in Leadership (pictured left)

Our moment of clarity, around getting the right approach for the children’s mental wellbeing, came about seven years ago. At that time, we had interventions and strategies in place but we felt they weren’t purposeful and didn’t offer the support some of the children so desperately needed. As a result, we had high levels of behaviour sanctions and fixed term exclusions which wasn’t where we wanted to be as a school. We have 430 pupils and are based in East London in a community which has high levels of deprivation. We wanted to make a difference in our pupils’ lives; to provide them with the support and stability that may be lacking for some and to help them fulfil their full potential.

We realised that we needed to do things differently and for us this started with a recommendation from another school which had successfully embedded the Thrive Approach®. Initially conceived as a way of tackling the issue of school exclusions, Thrive® now offers a whole-setting approach to supporting the social and emotional development of all children and young people. The Thrive Approach consists of Thrive-Online®, a web-based assessment and monitoring tool, and training. Thrive training focuses on the emotional needs of different age groups informed by established neuroscience and attachment research, as well as child development studies and research into risk and resilience factors.

When we heard about Thrive, it fitted perfectly with what we were looking for to meet our pupils’ needs. It has become an integral part of school life and the pupils, staff and parents are all committed to the approach. Thrive has plugged the gaps and continues to support pupils’ mental wellbeing. We have seen a positive shift in behaviour as a result. Our exclusion and sanction rates have decreased significantly and the children are now able to communicate their needs and talk about why they’re struggling. There has also been a real change in the atmosphere at school – the children are more confident and they have a better relationship with staff. Attainment levels have also improved because children are in class, calm and ready to access learning.

We have successfully embedded Thrive at parent consultation events, with parents and carers also meeting the Thrive practitioners, in the same way they meet to talk to teachers about how their children are doing. This gives the parents a better understanding of how their children are progressing both academically and emotionally. Parents have a good relationship with our Thrive staff and they will often ask for support themselves. Thrive is something that has really trickled out from school to home and parents often comment on the positive impacts Thrive has had on their children and home life in general.

The changes in school have resulted in much better staff morale. It’s made SLT more aware of staff wellbeing and it’s created a culture where we all check in regularly with one other. Staff are much more able to talk about what is working and what is not and, as a team, we have more of an open dialogue about all issues in school.

Thrive has also helped us to manage the impact of Covid-19 disruptions to our school community. We were quite worried about how the children would come back to school, but we have found that Thrive has definitely made the children more resilient. When we remained open for vulnerable and key worker children during the first lockdown, we continued Thrive work with them. For the children that were at home, we published Thrive based activities on the school website weekly. This was really important for us and, as a school, we prioritised Thrive support being available to all pupils during the lockdown. Pupils came back to school with such a positive attitude and they are really happy to be back. For us, this reaffirms that our approach to mental wellbeing is an ongoing success – our pupils are glad to be in school and they are thriving.

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