Stress in schools is increasing, as numerous studies have shown, but in some forward-thinking establishments, workshops are helping to changethat.
Last summer the Childline charity reported that calls received about exam-related stress had doubled over 12 months.
Mental health concerns dominate the news and now, in Sheffield, 10 schools are to get a share of £3 million to run trials to improve pupils’ mental health.
Forge Valley and High Storrs schools are among those who will pilot schemes, and both schools have started innovative work with hypnotherapist and coach in emotional resilience tools and techniques, Jayne May.
Based in Sheffield but working across South Yorkshire, Jayne herself experienced depression as a teenager, and struggled to get by using self help methods.
She said: “With young suicides on the increase I believe if we can educate kids now we can help them deal with life’s challenges along the way.”
Last year Jayne responded to a request from High Storrs to work with pupils experiencing exam pressure.
She said: “I can help students identify their own stress and anxiety. There is so much going on in teenagers’ lives as they strive for good results and cope with outside pressures that may relate to family, peer groups or even social media. All this along with hormonal changes can make schooldays a very difficult time.”
She continued: “Problems arise when they feel out of control or as though a rug has been pulled from under them. I explain that although they can’t control facts and circumstances, they can control how they react to situations. The right reactions will put them back in control.”
Her workshops cover many elements of behaviour and coping strategies, the natural ‘fight or flight’ response, and ways of calming and relaxing. Breathing techniques form part of the sessions, along with visualisation of happy outcomes.
After Jayne worked with Forge Valley pupils last summer, the school recorded the best exam results they had ever had. Jayne hopes that her coaching helped towards this success.
Problems arise because children and young people never get taught how to handle their emotions and interactions, or how to manage conflict and stress, Jayne believes. Youngsters pick up behaviours from parents, siblings or peer groups, but these may not be the best examples.
“If emotional resilience is taught from a young age there will be so much less stress around I am sure,” she added.
Teachers, too, often struggle under work pressure and need to be able to cope, said the coach.
Following Childline’s revelation that exam-related stress calls doubled in twelve months, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We must all listen to what children calling Childline are saying about exam-related stress. NUT-commissioned research has revealed increases in anxiety, stress and disaffection among pupils as well as a negative impact on the quality of the teacher-pupil relationship because of the level of pressure on and in schools.”
Forge Valley School’s headteacher Dale Barrowclough is determined to promote psychological health in school.
He said: “Jayne came in to school before Year 11 pupils took their exams. She ran an assembly on practical coping and relaxation methods to deal with exam stress and anxiety, and then worked more closely with those pupils who needed further help and support. Afterwards, the year 11s repeatedly referred to the techniques they had learned from Jayne’s seminars,”
A workshop for teachers followed more recently, helping them to recognise signs of anxiety in students and to discuss ways that may help alleviate its impact. “Teenagers can be particularly susceptible,” said Jayne. “Their psychological make-up is developing so rapidly.”
With teachers, Jayne demonstrated how they could help ease students from negative thinking patterns, and she provided simple but effective mechanisms to cope with anxiety.
Mr Barrowclough was enthusiastic about the seminar.
He said: “As individuals we all have differing tolerances towards anxiety and what creates it for one person may not in another. Jayne was able to share with staff the root causes for this and how as individuals we can develop helpful mental habits.”
Several teachers praised Jayne on her key messages and delivery, and sought advice about individual dilemmas. Jayne said: “It was encouraging to hear compliments about the presentation, I’m not sure I was ever given ‘10 out of 10’ when I was at school!”
At High Storrs, Jayne has worked closely with head of personal, health, social and economic education, Eileen Hetherington.
Eileen said: “Jayne’s manner was superb and the feedback from students was excellent. She demonstrated possible triggers which can be identified, either now or in the future. Many Year 11s ignore the stress and I feel she opened the subject out for them.”
Previously Jayne has worked in various forms as a trainer and senior project leader, delivering multi-million pound nationwide projects. Balancing career responsibilities as a young adult brought her challenges, and led to depression and OCD.
A self-help approach led her to research of psychological therapies. Recognising that she could combine skills learned previously, with life experience, fuelled her ambition.
She went on to acquire full registration in hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming. Emotional well-being facilitation followed, then Jayne established her business Clear Pathway.