Thursday 20th October 2016
A few weeks ago I climbed to the top of Malham Cove. As I took in the magnificent view across the Yorkshire Dales in bright sunshine I was conscious of the natural endorphin rush and the general feeling of well-being. I was also aware of how effectively it made me switch off.
Earlier in the week I had watched Dr Chris Van Tulleken's documentary, 'Trust me I'm a doctor' and his attempts to reduce the prescribing of pills to patients who had symptoms of pain, depression or raised anxiety. A day before that The Times newspaper reported on research conducted by Dr Ann John showing a 141% surge over the last ten years in young people and children seeking help for depression. Her report stated, "Girls were three times as likely to be diagnosed with depression or put on antidepressants as boys. Children from poorer areas were twice as likely to be offered the drugs..." Beyond that we have our regular reports on the rise of obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Most school uniforms are now available in extra large sizes as our fast food eating culture displaces more balanced meals. Finally, we have the increasing evidence of the impact of online bullying on mental health. Many young people are only as happy as their last text message or What's App.
Our natural drive is to ensure learners pass their qualifications but how far do we also focus on well-being and promoting good health and fitness? Ofsted's criteria for Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare includes the grade one criterion, "They [learners] make informed choices about healthy eating, fitness and their emotional and mental well-being." How does your course team address this criterion? There are 11 calories in an Americano from Starbucks and 326 in a tall mocha with whipped cream. There are 350 calories in a chocolate iced, filled doughnut from Krispy Kreme and 336 in a cheese steak sub from Subway. How far do we raise awareness? What information is in your ILP about the individual and their existing lifestyle and what initiatives do you and your team employ to improve individual lifestyles? A simple questionnaire can capture memberships of social and sporting clubs and any involvement in community and charitable organisations plus wider hobbies and interests.
Given the scale of issues around mental well-being this information is perhaps just as important as knowing your learners' GCSE exam results and the outcomes of diagnostic tests in English and Maths. Invite your course team to look at the course calendar for the year ahead and plan how to stretch and challenge young people's existing lifestyles and lift them out of their comfort zones. Simple trips to museums, art galleries, stately homes, gardens, theatres, cities can introduce a wider perspective. Some young people have rarely travelled beyond their home districts. Spending a weekend away in a Youth Hostel or a foreign city or simply climbing a hilltop on a daytrip or trying your hand at something entirely new like rock climbing, orienteering or visiting adventure parks and try tackling an assault course, rafting, tree top walking and zooming down a zip line. All these simple pursuits can be invigorating and generate a feel good factor and will build resilience and grit faster than any classroom discussion. Encouraging the Duke of Edinburgh award can wrap up these sorts of experiences within a bronze, silver or gold award. Beyond this visits to relevant universities and/or major employers to raise ambitions and invitations to visiting speakers to highlight future opportunities. Perhaps fund raise for a named charity and seek involvement in community organisations and seek to improve something in your local area relevant to vocational specialisms. At induction present the A to Z of all the local sports and social clubs beyond the college and encourage membership. Time to build on our Olympic legacy and the 'can do' spirit of our para-Olympians.
Sometimes it is just as simple as setting a challenge task each term for your group. Maybe a simple quiz or a physical challenge. Abseil from the roof or a 'stair climb' challenge in the nearest tower block. Set up cross college sports tournaments or cross college quiz championships. Get learners to try their hand at plumbing or carpentry and replacing a punctured tyre on a car. Make use of your facilities to try other skills. Encourage entry into local, regional and national competitions and not forgetting World Skills championships.
Finally, let's guard against quack psychology and too much introspection and aim for more 'out of your seat' active involvement. What events are in your course calendar for this academic year to stimulate and excite your learners?