Health and well-being is always important, but never more so than during the current challenges we face as professionals. We have pupil groups and staff members away from school with symptoms of Covid or self-isolating, and an expectation to adjust to ever-changing climates. So well-being has to be our paramount priority for staff, learners and our communities.
In our case, like many of the experiences of schools across Wales. We have had to navigate our way through three pupil group class closures, engaging with distance learning and a high proportion of our core members of staff away from school due to the variety of challenges that accompany responses to Covid. It’s a recognised challenge for the whole profession at this time.
The ‘good news’ part of this story is that we have been able to continue our focus and draw upon our engagement in developing Health and Well-being as one of the Areas of Learning and Experience. This has been a sustained, collectively recognised priority for our school and we have continued to embed new practices through exploring the new curriculum during this time. Well-being has been the driver in this provision with the accompanying AoLE supporting our aim with a firm focus on the cross-curricular skills.
For us, the momentum to embed a rich well-being provision grew in 2018. We established a professional learning community (I’ll call it the PLC from here on) including volunteers from members of the school community at various levels.
Why is Well-being so important at St Illtyd’s Primary?
From our robust needs analysis, our learners were deemed to be lacking in resilience, motivation and effort – linked to interruptions in their well-being. How do we know? Our robust evaluation and knowledge of our learners and their context, told us we needed to work particularly hard to develop a good sense of well-being in all our children. Drawing on this local knowledge and relational information, the aims and vision for the PLC were captured in a collaboratively-shaped vision statement (see later), for enhancing the well-being for the community at St Illtyd’s Primary. We used this information to form a learner based profile known as the ‘Well-being Web’, explained later in this post.
We’re getting real results from using this bespoke approach in combination with our universal, targeted and focused whole school provision for our learners. For example, the rate of incidents towards staff have significantly reduced over the past three years and currently stand at NO recorded incidents. The development of our well-being provision has also had an impact on our exclusion rates with further reductions during this time, which also currently stand at no recorded exclusions. The important factor in all this was time, for implementation, sense making, refinement and embedding practice.
In these current difficult times we also have a real need to raise the profile and support the well-being of our staff. Staff have the pressures of changing routines, different workload expectations, frequently balancing often last-minute changes alongside concerns over contracting Covid themselves and the potential risks posed to their own families. All staff have their individual stories to tell which can result in them being affected both at work and at home. So for staff, we have ensured we have a robust well-being plan and policy in place. Our professional learning is dedicated to engaging with support activities on a fortnightly basis during the autumn term to support this. It has included involvement from support services to enhance our school-based and Local Authority provision. Furthermore, we are looking to develop a staff well-being profile where staff can plot, make sense of and communicate their own well-being against the five ways to well-being. Staff are offered a care, support and guidance meeting which is separate from the traditional performance development conversation.
Leadership have taken an empathetic approach to management and expectations, balancing a ‘business as usual’ approach with the strains posed in response to emergency Covid considerations. The school has drawn on support from the primary mental health in-reach project to facilitate discussions around stress management, anxiety and support networks for staff. We have created a Well-being Staff policy and have drawn on agencies such as Education support to achieve this. Drop-in sessions for care support and guidance have been facilitated for staff also.
Of course just recently we’ve seen the Welsh Government’s publication of the Framework on embedding a whole-school approach to emotional and mental well-being, supported by an explanatory animation, which will also be helpful as we move forward.
If you’d like to know more about how we developed our overall approach to Well-being for pupils, here it is in more detail:
It began with the school as a whole. Here’s our mission statement – which is enacted as part of the ethos and culture at our school – a living vision not just sitting on paper.
St Illtyd’s Primary has identified the fundamental need for creating a learning environment, which fully values the importance of the child being at the centre, in an inclusive atmosphere. The emphasis on well-being and preparation for learning, are essential elements for children to develop the skills values and competencies required to reach their potential. Part of our vision is to refine the existing and make informed decisions before changing practices as the curriculum changes. Our mission is to inspire all to be the best they can be, developing perseverance and resilience. To achieve this, we aim to explore and implement relevant best practice from around Wales, with a focus on shaping an autonomous school curriculum to cater for the needs of our children. Through robust needs analysis and monitoring we aim to provide rich, challenging, pedagogical opportunities to improve our children’s ability to overcome problems when faced with challenges and optimise disposition to learning. We aim to enhance provision for reflective learning and personal development and improve our community partnerships to support us in achieving our vision. In this school, every person matters. We strive for everyone to have the best opportunities in a safe, happy, caring, exciting learning environment. This is a place to be challenged and we strongly believe in achievements being celebrated. All are filled with aspirations for success through exciting learning and professional development experiences. Resulting in excellent teaching and learning opportunities. Everybody matters in this school community, we strive to equip young people with the skills, values and competencies needed to thrive in an ever changing world.
This is how we developed our ‘Well-being Web’:
The group considered research: a variety of pupil, regional and local data and community information was used to develop a firm understanding of the immediate needs of our learners. Further consideration was given to longer term issues and challenges our learners may face in their lives, with possible external influences which drive behaviours, mind-sets and consequently have an impact on well-being. It was important for this to be driven by the four purposes of the curriculum. We confirmed that improving learners’ well-being is paramount and has a significant impact on their ability to thrive, such that they are able to operate in a cognitive capacity to access learning. In very simple terms, ‘happy children learn’. Through this firm base of research and knowledge of our learners, members of the PLC suggested areas our children need to develop in order for them to succeed, hoping to remove some barriers to their progress in learning.
The group then reflected on the ‘What Matters’ Statements, drawing on the work of exemplars for monitoring progress in well-being provision in the Area of Learning and Experience for Health and Well-being.
Using all this research and knowledge, the structure and principles of the ‘Well-being Web’ were finalised. This model was deemed an effective way to monitor and begin developing criteria to track and monitor provision and progress in the well-being focused areas. A visual representation was explored in the form of a learner profile as an effective way to communicate with all parents and carers, i.e. where some families had been identified as having barriers with written reporting for a variety of reasons connected to personal skills or language barriers, a visual form of communicating would prove effective.
As we developed the web, staff were asked to reflect and comment on key questions:
What are we doing well already in relation to the What Matters statements?
What are our areas for development?
What are our barriers to providing a rich well-being curriculum?
The information was collated in preparation for forming ‘strive to thrive’ criteria to support curriculum plans and pedagogical needs. So here’s the web!
How were the Well-being ‘Strive to Thrive’ criteria developed?
Using the rich information generated from the previous Well-being PLC group meetings, staff inset day and further inclusion of pupils’ voice, the group met again to categorise the information collated. We realised one generic bank of statements for our classes would not be suitable for our learners to suit their progression and developmental needs. It was decided each statement needed to be designed to cater for stages of learning. Therefore, in line with the emerging Achievement Outcomes of the new curriculum, we decided to write achievement outcomes for each of our strands of the well-being web in a stage-appropriate manner. The structure deliberately mirrored the ‘I can’ and ‘I have’ format. In the process of developing the first draft of the stage-related criteria frames, it was decided that supporting knowledge, skills and experiences would be beneficial.
We also looked at how the Knowledge, Skills and Experiences should be structured through the continuum. This supporting frame provides useful pedagogical support for developing learners’ competency in reaching the achievement outcomes, along with effectively supporting curriculum planning and pedagogy.
The Well-being web with supporting criteria was launched with staff during the Spring term of 2018 with staff agreeing to recommend adjustments to the criteria if issues are identified during its usage. We also discussed the use of the Well-being Web to inform pedagogy, provision and strategic direction, whilst triangulating information for Self Evaluation Report and School Improvement Plans. The governors’ care support and guidance committee also reflected and commented on designs.
Family and Community Engagement Partnerships
Through partnership work with the Llanhilleth Institute adjoined to the school, a grant from Children In Need was secured to improve opportunities for our learners and the community.
Plans are in place to introduce play therapy, ‘Flying Start’ early years provision and bespoke community links to services and a variety of ‘Families First’ support initiatives. During a cluster group meeting with our community partnerships, we discussed how the well-being web could be used to further develop and identify needs for this community. Information from the well-being webs – trends and areas of need established from the formative data – could be anonymously shared with the local community groups, communicating trends and identifying needs. This would help the groups to cater for emerging needs in the community.
Secondary practitioners from the AoLE for Health and Wellbeing have also been involved in developments, to extend the frame for well-being to a 3 -16 continuum. Consideration is being given to transition and to ways to support progression, with curriculum mapping in preparation for change to the new curriculum. The well-being web criteria are now in place for Yrs 7,8 & 9 and Yr10&11 as separate continuums. Further work is required to complete:
- Oracy and number strands for Yr7 to Yr 11.
- The supporting Experiences, Knowledge and Skills to enrich curriculum provision.
- Consideration of links with the ‘My Learning’ curriculum and metacognition links with the further established Five to Thrive learning to learn concepts developed with an additional PLC at our school.
The latest on usage:
- The well-being web criteria and achievement outcomes have been used by all classes over the past three years. They have been used to triangulate with other data to inform our practices, pedagogy and provision.
- This example of curriculum development and the emotional well-being approach is being used as a focus for our Abertillery Cluster of schools.
- The AOs are further used to inform Individual Education Plans and offer suggestions for strengths and areas for development for each learner, recorded on the Well-being Web.
- The use is regularly evaluated and monitored with reports communicated with staff to ensure consistency in use and purpose.
- Plans in place to work in partnership with Llanhilleth Institute. We will use the web to to inform the community group’s practice when we develop family and community engagement using the Children In Need grant funding.
- Use of Well-being web as formative criteria for deciding community-based projects based on needs-analysis generated from the Well-being web findings.
- Staff well-being activities to continue with a staff based well-being profile to support staff with needs and inform our support networks and provision.
To conclude, I end with a quote which has supported us in focusing on what matters with the culture and ethos we are dedicated to shaping for the benefit of our learners and community.
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanised or dehumanised. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
Haim G Ginott
Kelly Forrest Mackay
Leader of Learning Wellbeing and Inclusion ALNco
St Illtyd’s Primary School