Educating Greater Manchester

1) For those of us who’ve watched Educating Greater Manchester, it’s clear to see that you’re a headteacher who’s driven by a real commitment to make a difference and support the young people who attend your school to be their best. What’s great about the TV programme is that it really shines a light on your belief that school isn’t just a place for academic work and achievement, it’s also a place for emotional and social development. Could you explain a little more about why you believe this approach really matters?

At Harrop we believe that schools should strip it all back to the basic question ‘what is school for?’ Is it to prepare kids for work? Yes, but importantly it’s to prepare kids for life. This means we want to develop young people personally, socially and academically…in that order. We don’t believe you can achieve real success in any of those areas without developing them as people first. This means that we will focus on supporting any young person’s needs, whatever they may be, and help them to be ‘life ready’, resilient, independent and reflective.

2) At Harrop Fold, your behaviour policy stipulates that no young person should be excluded. What’s driven your decision to implement this strategy and what impact have you seen as a result?

We don’t feel that exclusions are right for our young people. This label is unhelpful and very often sets them on a path to an unfulfilled future. Exclusions are also on the rise, with around 1790 exclusions a day in the U.K. We also know that the majority of adults in our justice system were excluded from school, so we can stop the labels and negative associations by not excluding.

This doesn’t mean that all students will be right for mainstream education, but we believe there are other ways to find them the right setting. This is a ‘brave call’ for governing bodies and schools to take, but we feel it’s right for our young people. All young people develop, grow and change at different rates and we give them every chance to succeed in our environment. This also means we have to flex and adapt our ways of working to fit their needs.

3) At Team Mental Health, we recently conducted a survey of over 600 people working in teaching and learnt that over 98% of those who completed this survey had encountered children and young people experiencing mental health problems. Whilst around half felt confident in their ability to identify a young person experiencing a mental health problem, only a third felt confident in their ability to intervene and support a young person experiencing a mental health problem.

We believe that all who work in schools have a role to play when it comes to supporting mental health and wellbeing. For us it’s not about staff in school becoming experts but, as with child protection, we think it’s hugely important for everyone to be able to work together to address this important issue. We offer a unique ‘whole school’ approach to mental health training to ensure the information people receive is relevant to their role and position of responsibility. What are your thoughts on this kind approach?

At Harrop, we believe that we are best placed to work with young people on the issue of mental health. We have the young people for a large amount of time each day and build strong relationships with them too. However, you rightly point out, that we often lack the skills to recognise the issues or also the skill sets to deal with them. By working with experts, it would be possible to explore this vital issue more and also improve our skills in dealing with mental health issues more effectively.

4) 2017 was a very difficult year for the people of Greater Manchester and the UK as a whole. The impact of the devastating arena attack will have undoubtedly been felt at your school. Could you explain a little about the steps Harrop Fold take when extremely difficult circumstances such as this occur?

The whole notion of ‘Team Harrop’ is about a team of people who ‘look out’ for each other and ‘look after’ each other. Having time together to talk is crucial, particularly after a difficult event (s).

As schools should always be working with the local people that they serve, we connect closely with the community wherever possible. Through pulling together and handling things positively, we aim to continue to deliver hope in the area. We use our position with the press to communicate the same.

5) Something we really recognise and appreciate is the pressures and difficulties staff working in schools often face. Undoubtedly, this can have an impact on their own mental health and wellbeing. We believe ‘mental health begins with me’ and it’s difficult to expect people to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people if they’re struggling mentally themselves. We know the wellbeing of your team really matters to you. It would be great to hear about some of the ways you support the positive mental health of staff working at Harrop Fold?

A good friend of mine Paul McGee (aka the S.U.M.O guy) has a great saying that wellbeing starts in the staffroom before we even consider the classroom and I’d agree with this wholeheartedly!

At Harrop, we have a series of events that help to support our staff. These include (and have included) fit clubs, yoga sessions and external speakers. We have breakfasts regularly and other staff events that facilitate us getting together to talk about what we are seeing and experiencing in school.

We are seeing a shift in the mindset of workers in all sectors and therefore our ways of leading need to shift and adapt too!

We also encourage staff to shape our strategy and operational foci to ensure we connect with the most relevant issues for all staff. It’s really key to listen as well as act!

A huge ‘thank you’ to Mr Drew Povey for talking with Team Mental Health’s Dr Libby Artingstall about these important issues.