Bethan Ferguson, Head of Bright Futures
For the last two years, Sixth Form students have volunteered to deliver lessons to eleven-year olds on maintaining good mental health. Part of an initiative from Mental Health Foundation – the charity that started Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK – the Peer Education Project has proved to be great fun, and to have made a real difference, and the results of the before and after questionnaire shows:
We know that anxiety, low mood and other mental health difficulties are a growing issue for teenagers. With 50% of mental health problems established by the age of 14, the first few years of secondary school are a vital time to equip students to understand, protect and sustain their mental health throughout their school career and beyond.
The project introduces mental health as something that we all need to look after – like our physical health – and passes on plenty of practical strategies for keeping on an even emotional keel. All the material and activities used in the project have been developed by teachers and psychologists working for Mental Health Foundation, and the Sixth Formers involved have ten hours of training to get to know the material and to understand their role.
The Peer Education Project grew out of an observation that young people benefit from engaging with older students on this issue. Younger students can relate to Sixth Formers as having successfully navigated school life; and older students understand the modern pressures of teenage life from the inside. One of our younger students put it succinctly:
“I think it was easier that they were close to our age – they understood our feelings and experiences a bit more.”
The Sixth Form students benefit from this programme as much as the younger students – growing in the confidence that comes from making a difference to another’s life. They also found they were able to embed the same mental health strategies they were teaching in their own everyday lives. Finding this ability to cope with the ups and downs of life is essential for students as they face the greater independence of university life and a competitive job market. This rootedness is something employers are looking for too. Sundar Pinchai, CEO of Google, describes the importance of resilience –
“ We like to choose students who are bright, but broad, with character. The thing is, if somebody’s intelligent we can teach them the skills they need – and skills learnt at school will probably become outdated anyway. But what we can’t do is teach them to be rooted. ”
Qualifications are a key element of the package students need to develop, but breadth and character are vital too. Not just for career success, but for happiness in life.
The Elizabeth Godolphin Award, with its diverse menu of extra-curricular activities from which all Sixth Form students at Godolphin select, encourages students to develop this breadth. Whether they take part in Model United Nations, or BBC School Report, or Homework Helpdesk, they begin to flex those muscles of long-term commitment that teach resilience. They also learn that they have something to offer the community that we would all miss if they didn’t get involved! As one Sixth Former put it, reflecting on her part in the Peer Education Project:
“ It was great fun to do this with the First Years. Godolphin has that sense of community that I haven’t really found anywhere else, and this sort of thing brings it about ”