Wellington Leads the Way in Wellbeing
With Dr Jenny Griggs in post as Head of Student Emotional Health and Wellbeing, exciting plans for an innovative new Wellbeing Centre, and the 3rd annual Mental Health Festival on 25 June, Wellington is at the cutting edge of mental health provision.
Wellington has pioneered wellbeing in education since it became the first school in the UK to introduce happiness and wellbeing to the curriculum in 2006. Head of Wellbeing, Ian Morris, has developed an award-winning teaching program spanning all year groups that covers a lot of ground from human relationships, physical health and sex education to perspective, meaning and purpose.
Alongside wellbeing on the timetable, Wellington has increased peer-to-peer support in recent years with student mental health ambassadors, mental health prefects and a mental health committee. A team of 4 school counsellors and a parent mental health committee ensure that wellbeing is woven into the fabric of school life.
Pupil mental health rose even higher up the agenda during the last two years due to the impact of Covid-19. The College knew that re-establishing a routine was crucial for returning pupils but was mindful to take the pace of life a little slower at first so that reintroduction didn’t feel too intense. Since the pandemic the demand for counselling has increased and Wellington’s top priority is to identify and monitor those pupils who are struggling.
The College introduced the new role of Head of Student Emotional Health and Wellbeing in September 2021 and was delighted to appoint Dr Jenny Griggs. Jenny is a clinical psychologist with 18 years’ experience working in a CAMHS (Children and Adult Mental Health Service) within the NHS and subsequently in her own independent practice in Wokingham. With close ties to the University of Reading, Jenny specialises in CBT and has a passion for working with teenagers and young adults.
Jenny’s broad role has been designed to drive forward the momentum of Wellington’s wellbeing provision as the College builds the right support structures to help current and future pupils. She will have oversight of all pupils who are struggling with mental health and will ensure they receive the right care at the right time. This might be via Wellington’s expanding team of highly-trained school counsellors or through external support.
Jenny was drawn to the role at Wellington because it allows her to combine her previous experiences in an exciting and forward-thinking environment.
"I appreciate that Wellington already places such emphasis on pastoral care and that the school’s values of developing well-rounded and happy pupils fit closely with my own."
Her vision for the role is to consolidate the College’s existing mental health activities while championing new initiatives.
"I also want to take a more active role when it comes to the student mental health ambassadors. The lower-sixth ambassadors already run some of their own initiatives like talking in house assemblies on mental health and wellbeing, and ‘tea and a chat’ sessions but I want to ensure that they really encourage other pupils to put coping mechanisms into practice, as well as learning about them in theory.”
Jenny identifies that the pressure to achieve across the board can be one of the most stressful elements of school, particularly at a public school. The wellbeing curriculum equips pupils with specific coping mechanisms such as mindfulness, meditation and identifying thinking traps.
The College reemphasises these coping mechanisms in particular around exam season to help pupils cope. Wellington proactively addresses potential anxiety triggers, for example spending additional time helping this year’s A-Level pupils who hadn’t been able to take their GCSEs due to Covid. Jenny says: "Many Wellingtonians go on to lead busy, fast-paced lives and the mental health skills and strategies that we equip them with at school will serve them well in later life. Talking openly about mental health becomes a habit from a young age."
The College also sometimes works with parents on a 1-to-1 basis to discuss the needs of individual students. When it comes to exams, parents are encouraged to ensure that their children aren’t studying to the detriment of other interests and hobbies, and to support their children to develop healthy study habits like regular breaks and realistic revision timetables.
New Wellbeing Centre
A major element of Jenny’s role will be her involvement in the creation of a large, ambitious Wellbeing Centre that will be built on campus over the next few years.
The holistic centre will incorporate all aspects of wellbeing. It will be a place where pupils can access counselling and healthcare but also somewhere to learn about and put into practice positive wellbeing initiatives like exercise, mindfulness, meditation, yoga and Pilates. Bringing together counsellors, doctors, nurses and physios in one unified facility is something that hasn’t been tried in any other UK school and it’s exciting to thinking of the benefits this will give to the Wellington community.
The Wellbeing Centre is being designed around the NHS 5 Steps to Mental Wellbeing, one of which is ‘give to others’. Jenny says: "We envision that the centre will be a space that we can share with other local schools when we are not using it. ‘Connect with other people’ is another of the steps and it will be very much a hub in which pupils can come together and interact."
Mental Health Festival, 25 June
Wellington’s 3rd annual Mental Health Festival is taking place on Saturday 25 June from 9am-12pm. Organised by Dave Walker, Deputy Head (Pastoral and Wellbeing) the interactive event is designed to keep mental health at the forefront of the conversation between children, parents and staff.
With a varied agenda, this year’s Festival will shine a light on many aspects of teenage mental health. There will be talks on topics ranging from eating disorders and performance under pressure to mental health and suicide. Hands on activities such as Journaling, Knitting, Yoga, Reiki and meeting the Wellington therapy dogs will promote good wellbeing strategies.
Many of the speakers will open up about their own relatable mental health issues. Mental Health Campaigner Lottie Leach is an old Wellingtonian who struggled with mental health at school and is an advocate for destigmatising mental health by speaking up and asking for help.
Another highlight is Charlene Wattley’s talk about the teenage brain which helps parents and pupils understand the changes the brain goes through during adolescence and the relationship this has with mental health. Charlene is a lecturer at the University of Reading.