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Mary Meredith

Guest blogpost: let’s celebrate our schools as ‘healing communities’

Guest blogpost written by Mary Meredith, Head of Inclusion at Lincolnshire County Council

Never in the history of state education has work to foster wellbeing been more urgent. The Children’s Commissioner’s recent Guardian article highlights the unprecedented number of children that are suffering. This was predictable. Felitti’s study of Adverse Childhood Experiences taught us that children are not ‘naturally resilient’. High levels of cortisol – the stress hormone which is released when children do not have a sense of the world as a safe and secure place – have a devastating impact on their mental health.

School is such an all-consuming part of children’s lives. An environment that can be protective or put a child at risk; a safe haven or a terrifying prison. A place that can heal, harm and everything between. Emphatically therefore, mental health is school business and in Lincolnshire this weighty responsibility is one that our leaders have not just accepted but embraced.

Lincolnshire was once the highest excluding local authority in the country. To change this, the council needed to break the cruelly causal link between childhood adversity and trauma, toxic stress, emotional dysregulation and exclusion. Using our Ladder of Behavioural Intervention, we have already made substantial progress to reframe challenging behaviour to distressed behaviour.

The pandemic – as a community trauma – added a sense of urgency to this work and efforts to ensure that best practice became common practice were intensified. Our behaviour outreach support service (BOSS) picked up the trauma-training mantle with their Regulation Toolkits for primary and secondary – adopted by settings well beyond Lincolnshire. Similarly, Kyra Research School – in partnership with the local authority, commissioned services, third sector and other organisations – led a series of interactive webinars on trauma-informed school-recovery which engaged hundreds of Lincolnshire educators. Lincolnshire has also published bite-sized training videos on pastoral care in a post-pandemic age.

Now through our SEND transformation programme in partnership with IMPOWER, we are also seeing positive change. Without a doubt, the first lockdown was a period of extraordinarily rich collaboration and productivity, and there is now much more awareness about what children need to thrive. Conditions for the SEND transformation programme could not be more conducive – not so much despite the challenging context but because of it. The sense of a sector wanting to protect its most vulnerable and build back better for them through collective endeavour is palpable.

Lincolnshire’s SEND transformation programme is multi-faceted, moving at pace and tremendously exciting. SEND provision takes a huge, bewildering range of forms but linking them all is the need for responsive flexibility and reasonable adjustment – the creation of stress-reducing rather than stress-inducing school environments. Ultimately, children are not ‘fixed’ through referrals into remote clinics – it is their environments that harm or that heal them. Our transformation programme will ensure Lincolnshire is truly a place where all children can grow.

When pupils return to school, many will be hypervigilant, activated, edgy and in a constant state of alert as a result of toxic lockdown experiences. Others might be frozen, appear dazed or dissociated. It will take time for children to regain equilibrium – we cannot simply return to business as usual. Pupil wellbeing really is our leaders’ first and only priority – so the local authority’s work with the sector is like pushing against an open door. However, all local authorities have a defining role to play now in promoting a sector-wide vision for schools as ‘healing communities’.

 

Mary will share more about the SEND programme in an upcoming blogpost. Until then, you can read more from Mary Meredith at www.marymered.com. Follow her on Twitter @marymered.

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