The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today visited Stewards Academy to find out more about the pressures faced by young people when they are going through big changes in their lives and the support from their friends, school and parents that can help them get through these changes.
Stewards Academy is one of the schools supported by Place2Be, a member of the team of charities brought together for the Heads Together campaign spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to change the conversation on mental health from shame to support. Place2Be has been an integral part of the support network available to pupils at the Academy for several years.
During the visit, their Royal Highnesses attended a lesson led by students and a special assembly for Years 7 and 11 on coping with big changes in life. Introducing the assembly, which featured personal stories from students at the school, The Duke of Cambridge:
“Catherine and I are really impressed by what we have seen of Stewards Academy, as we’re both strong believers in schools where the emotional wellbeing of young people is nurtured and protected just as much as your learning and academic skills.
“The Heads Together campaign is all about getting people talking about the difficult times that many of us will face and have faced in our lives.
“Talking can make us realise that we’re not alone. The opposite of talking is isolation and fear. Sometimes getting something off your chest is an important step in coping with a situation – so you know that you’re not alone, you’re not failing, and that it is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed or sad at times. Everybody does.
“If we could end the old fashioned idea that feeling down is something to be ashamed of, something that you shouldn’t burden others with, we would make our society a much happier and healthier place.”
“One moment that our campaign wanted to recognise was how tough it can be when young people go through major changes in their life – such as moving schools.
“For many of you who have just made the move, this will have been a positive and happy experience. But for some, it is hard to move from the comfort of a school that you know, surrounded by friends, to one that is new, unfamiliar and so much bigger.
“We know that parents sometimes don’t know how to help their children open up and talk about difficult times. Heads Together has today published, on its website, some top tips for parents – to help them talk to their children about big changes you may be going through.”
Klaudia, a student in Year 8 spoke in the assembly about her experience of big changes, explaining how she coped with starting a new school, in a new country, with a new language:
“While change can be exciting there is only so much change a twelve your old girl can handle. I had the usual worries of getting lost and maybe not liking the teachers but I also had some bigger fears.
“My mum is Polish and my stepdad is Tunisian so I was scared I wouldn’t fit in. Would people treat me differently because I wasn’t British? Would I look different? Sound different? These were some of the questions that popped into my head.
“The Stewards family made me feel welcome and for that I am grateful, and here at Stewards our cultural diversity is something we are proud of and we celebrate.
“My confidence has dramatically improved and I’ve taken every opportunity that has been given to me. At Stewards I feel supported, loved and happier than ever. Now I know I can deal with any changes in my future in a more confident way with my two families – at home and at Stewards.
At the assembly a group of students (Robert, 11, Libby, 13, and Hannah, 15) gave a spoken word performance about going through big changes and Emma Brigenshaw, an English teacher and former pupil at the school gave an adults view of going through changes from childhood onwards.
Earlier in the visit Their Royal Highnesses joined a lesson on ‘big change’ run by a small number of Peer Mentors from Year 10 (Emily, Max, Hannah, Hillary) who support the new joiners in their first year of school as part of a scheme at the school. This gave them the opportunity to discuss with the Peer Mentors and younger students in the class what support helps during a big change and what advice they would give to younger pupils who are going through a change in their life, such as coming to secondary school.
Their Royal Highnesses also met a small number of parents from the school to discuss how parents can encourage their children to talk about big changes in their lives. This is not always easy and Heads Together has today published ’10 Tips for Talking’ to help parents have these conversations. The tips were put together with experts at Heads Together Charity Partners Place2Be, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and YoundMinds and can be downloaded and shared at: https://www.headstogether.org.uk/10-tips-for-talking-to-kids-about-their-worries/
Big changes can affect people’s mental health and wellbeing and in young people they can be a trigger for mental health problems. Research shows that a fifth of children will experience a mental health problem by the time they are eleven and that half of the mental health problems suffered by adults are established by the age of 14. Currently, less than half of parents talk to their children about mental health.
For more information on Heads Together Back to School visit www.headstogether.org.uk/backtoschool