Depending on the socio-economic & cultural climate at the time, some subjects in schools are given priority over others and we filter attention according to their value. This is then seen through how much time, money and expertise we allocate. Now, it is the Ebac which are the all dominant subjects and we are seeing this happening with the marginalization of all the creative subjects and students sitting up to 4 hours a day of core subjects. With the current budget cut backs, we are also seeing support interventions - including those with external agencies - school trips and extra-curricular clubs being pulled as there is not the money, staffing or the time to run these.
Having access to a broad, balanced & creative curriculum in and outside of the school is rapidly becoming the privilege of the middle class and elite – those that can afford to top up and pay for a balanced education.
No-one is doubting the importance of numeracy and literacy for the fast-changing world which lies ahead for our young people. But if they are not emotionally literate; given target specific support with mental health challenges and the need to destigmatise; given in-depth exploration about what is a positive and negative relationship and how to conduct themselves in real time and digital time; taught strategies for dealing with increasing anxiety & stress; taught to recognize that eating disorders, substance abuse are all forms of self-harm… then we are failing them. We will be churning out a shell that has been spoon-fed to enable them to pass an exam…but what about passing LIFE?
Children today are having to be more ‘grown up' than ever before. They are being presented with scenarios online that they are often not emotionally fully prepared for but are expected to make discerning choices about how to engage or not engage. They are also witnessing adults working longer hours, showing clear signs of stress and often shocking examples of work-life balance. Time spent with the family communicating is now only achieved through a concerted, disciplined effort from everyone: to ‘down tool’ digital devices and to connect with each other.
Schools cannot approach supporting youth mental health & wellbeing as a ‘cinderella’ subject which is addressed in a few PSHE lessons. It needs to be embedded into the school’s whole value system and broad curriculum.
A key factor is the parents also need to sign up to a shared value system which embraces a positive mental health lifestyle.
The whole education system needs a complete shake up rejecting the tunnel vision path we are on. Supporting youth mental health and giving them opportunities to explore, in depth, the meaning of wellbeing, on a personal and global scale should be at the epicenter of a school’s agenda.
We should be sending a clear message, in all schools, that positive mental health and wellbeing of the whole self are the concepts we value the most in preparing for LIFE.