Torfaen school wins award for mental health work

A school in Torfaen has become the first special school in Wales to receive an award recognising its commitment to mental health.

Crownbridge School caters for children and young people with severe learning difficulties and highly complex needs.

The award praised behaviour, academic attainment, staff wellbeing and reduced disruptions.

It comes after schools across Wales and the rest of the UK were closed to all pupils except vulnerable children and those of key workers in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The school has its own garden area where children can work and play. Credit: Crownbridge School

The school day begins with ‘meet and greet’ and shared breakfast between pupils and staff, which helps to develop social engagement and ensures no child is left out or unable to communicate.

There is a garden area with rabbits in which the children can work, and school trips include the community zoo, horse riding, pet therapy and a range of other outdoor activities.

Teacher Caroline Payne said child happiness is key to progression in lessons.

"Unless a child is happy they can't learn," she said.

"If a child can learn better outside in the mud, or in the community, or through sensory play and needs time in the pool and knows when they're going to have that time, they see progress."

The award was presented by The Centre for Child Mental Health and Trauma Informed Schools UK.

The school helps young people with complex needs and traumatic previous school experiences to settle quickly and thrive. Credit: Crownbridge School

Deputy Head Shane Hayes said the skills that were recognised with the award are being used as the school deals with the coronavirus crisis.

He said: "Teachers and staff are phoning families and having wellbeing check ins throughout the week.

"We've spoken to some of the children over the phone to put their minds at rest and we've had a lot of support from the local authority following government guidelines.”

Looking after children’s mental health during coronavirus crisis

Julie Hamieson is the co-director of Trauma Informed Schools UK. She has given this advice for helping children to cope with the coronavirus crisis:

  • Structure/Routine - it helps to organise the day and the predictability helps give children a sense of safety

  • Play - play is a great antidote to a stressful situation, allowing carers and children to delight in each other’s company. It also provides an opportunity to discuss fears.

  • Manage our own emotional response - if we can keep calm it will help children to stay calm and become aware of their own emotions

  • Empathy - Accept the child’s perspective, and ask them to help you understand their experiences and give them strategies to manage their emotions.