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Using pupil voice to develop a mentally healthy school

Using pupil voice to develop a mentally healthy school

Kristoffer Gray

Kristoffer Gray

Kristoffer is a Place2Be School Project Manager at Carrick Academy. As a qualified counsellor, Kristoffer has experience of working in both primary and secondary schools across Ayrshire and Arran. 

Place2Be School Project Manager, Kristoffer Gray, reflects on the importance of using pupil voice to develop a mentally healthy school. This blog was originally published in The Scotsman.

Children and young people can offer a unique perspective. By involving them in decision-making, schools can create meaningful change and implement better support systems so that their students can emotionally develop and achieve academically. 

Since Covid, the UK has seen a cost-of-living crisis resulting in families being under enormous pressure. It’s no surprise that there has been an upsurge in children and young people experiencing mental health issues. These now affect one in six children – or five in every classroom.

Schools with a strong commitment to its pupil voice have reported many positive benefits and outcomes, including a decline in exclusions, better behaviour, and improving attainment and attendance.

I am a Place2Be School Project Manager at Carrick Academy, a secondary school in South Ayrshire. Since the Place2Be service was embedded in 2020, I have provided one-to-one counselling sessions to 68 pupils. These pupils have presented themselves with issues such as anxiety, family and friendship breakdowns, and increasing self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

With 390 pupils on the school role, I have seen the school take pride in using its pupil voice to challenge the stigma around mental health. For example, a Wellbeing Assessment Day was held earlier in the year. It was a great opportunity for staff to understand some of the barriers that students face at school, academically, and with their mental health.

Thomas Purdie and Eden Wallace are two students from Carrick Academy, who positively promote mental health services offered by Place2Be and in the wider school community.

Thomas and Eden use their compassion to champion mental health and other issues that the pupils face during school council meetings and support younger pupils in their transition from primary schools.

I recall a time when they communicated their feelings towards the school’s mental health support services and how the prospect of seeking help could be daunting – with some pupils expressing worries about what happens inside the counselling room. This enabled me to think of different ways in which I communicate the counselling process to students and staff members.

As exceptional ambassadors, the photo above this article shows Thomas and Eden winning the Young Champion Awards at Place2Be’s Wellbeing in Schools Awards. Thomas commented:

It was exciting, and it meant that we could go forth to show how we have used our voice to contribute to positive mental health and wellbeing.

By listening to children or a young person’s perspective, it can inspire them to actively advocate for a mentally healthy school.

Learn more about Place2Be's work in Scotland.

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