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The hypocrisy of teaching mental health in schools

As a Breathwork teacher who goes into schools to teach kids how to regulate their nervous system via their breath, the recent headlines about Ofsted cause me great concern. 


Revelations from a coroner's report suggest that Ofsted's judgments, laden with toxic impact, are taking a toll on the mental health of teachers. In a system where schools strive to promote well-being through PSHE lessons, practices like mindfulness, growth mindset work and how to read other peoples's moods, the inherent contradiction raises questions about the empathy of current inspection methods. 


Ofsted is inadvertently harming those entrusted with the education of youngsters in our schools.


The report's alarming findings shed light on the toxic consequences, devastating impacts, and distress caused by current inspection practices.


It's so ironic that teachers diligently deliver lessons on mental well-being, anti-bullying, only to find themselves working within a system that contradicts these values. I've sat in a final meeting to hear Ofsted findings and it's made clear that you are not meant to speak, to interrupt nor challenge. It seemed very authoritarian in an old fashioned way. 

 

Statistics such as 53% of teachers lack time for professional discussion, 8% of parents unaffected by Ofsted ratings, and the concerning trend of more teachers leaving than joining the profession since 2011 are worrying.


Worst still is that 73% of newly qualified educators contemplate leaving the profession within two years.


A teacher recently told me that "the removal of Ofsted pressure would lead to increased patience, more dedication to students, and a feeling of trust and respect among educators."


Advocating for a more humane approach, Sir Martin Oliver's - the new chief inspector - issued a statement endorsing schools' ability to request a pause in inspections if it causes harm, distress, or affects mental health sounds promising but don't all inspections cause some level of stress? As does any business audit, so how can a solution be found? 


On the urgent need for change, Jeff Barton General Secretary Association of School and College Leaders said that it has to be undertaken with "the understanding of the deep crisis in schools, encompassing workload, staffing, attendance, and mental health".

childs hands cupping toy lungs, being cradled by adult hands

Children are actually better than some grown ups at listening to their gut, picking up the signals from other people. This is referred to as neuroception, its sensing stress via someone's body language, it's sensing another person's breathing rate, it's getting a good or bad feeling when you enter a room. If teachers are at their stress tolerance limit the atmosphere in a classroom suffers. 


Surveys show that pupils detect a teacher's mood from a very young age, and adapt their behaviour and output accordingly, knowing it's not going to be a fun afternoon.


Therefore in order for PSHE lessons to be fully effective, the person delivering them must be giving off calm, grounded, content signals. 

 

Schools teach mindfulness, but before the mind can be calm, the brain needs to be receiving safety signals from the body. 

a child speaking to a therapist

This is where a person's breathing style comes into play. If you are breathing very fast and very shallow, the body sends that information to the brain via the vagus nerve - amongst other ways - and the brain is left wondering why. If you're not running for a bus or in a high stress urgent situation, why are you not breathing well? 


Adults can alter their breathing style on the spot. Even better to do it obviously and use it as a teaching moment in front of a child. Talk them through what you're doing...


-acknowledge your heightened emotions, name them out loud and share what’s happening with the class


- choose a coping strategy that works for you and consider voicing out loud the action you are taking


- maybe it’s pacing ten steps to help your body come unstuck


- maybe it’s extending your exhale to 6 seconds so it’s longer than 4 second inhale, do this three times


- combine the above and there’s a 30 second breathing practice to reset yourself and model this self-regulating technique to your pupils. A longer exhale sends a safely signal to the brain and lowers blood pressure.

 

Whilst a short breathing practice might help in some simple situations, clearly this environment needs a radical shift. 

a teacher lent over a table, teaching a group of children surrounded by classroom noticeboards and books

Professionals across the sector recognise the current crisis in education, we must see a new approach to inspections that fosters an environment conducive to well-being for both educators and pupils. 


a pensive woman with her fingers on her nose as she thinks


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