Anyone who has to predict the jobs market for young people leaving school in the next few years has a very difficult task. Not only has the global pandemic “upended” any economic and sectoral forecast, but the mental and social impact of the last twelve months on all young people has been significant. Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation …
Anyone who has to predict the jobs market for young people leaving school in the next few years has a very difficult task. Not only has the global pandemic “upended” any economic and sectoral forecast, but the mental and social impact of the last twelve months on all young people has been significant. Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University has shown the vast majority of (68 per cent) British teenagers fear the pandemic will make the future worse for people their age.
Professor Ann John, of Swansea University, said: “The pandemic has disrupted the lives of millions of British teenagers. As our survey shows, many are worried about their mental well-being and the future. Over two-thirds have felt alone. Prioritising the mental health of teenagers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond is critical. That is why we need to take action now, to make sure support is available for those who need it, while guaranteeing access and enabling transitions to training, education and employment. Only through being proactive can we ensure the pandemic does not have long-lasting consequences.” Shockingly, pessimism increases fairly steadily with age, the survey found: from 57 per cent of 13 year-olds surveyed saying life will be worse for their age group, to 78 per cent of 19 year-olds.
Having been heavily involved over the past few years in supporting the outstanding work of Samaritans and their support for the young in schools and universities, mental health issues are close to my heart. I have been chatting to pastoral leaders and others in many independent boarding schools in recent weeks and am especially grateful to the teams Dauntsey’s School, Lancing College and Lord Wandsworth College for their contributions to this article.
This is a time for teenagers to focus on what they can control rather than being afraid of what they cannot. There is something immediately liberating and empowering when children can take responsibility for things around them; even more so when it means they can focus on future goals and ambitions.
There are activities which teenagers can do now which will enhance their prospects of getting a future job, whether after university or direct from school. Employers and university selection panels are looking for young people who have gained transferable skills, all of which have been shown to impact positively upon on job satisfaction, graduate recruitment, and job application screening. These skills are not necessarily taught at university but are being acquired every day at good schools, especially at UK boarding schools.
Transferable skills include independent learning, communication, team working, problem solving, listening, and an ability to self-reflect and to set goals. UK boarding schools offer the perfect place for young people to build and hone these skills in a safe and supportive community. Trying new things, learning exciting skills and making a wider group of friends, whilst living away from home, is a happy by-product of the whole experience. Not only is the teaching and learning environment at boarding schools of the highest quality, but care, attention to the individual and time spent on supporting mental health and well-being, as well as careers advice about direction after school, is offered in spade loads.
Tom Rimmer, Head of Sixth Form at Lord Wandsworth College reports that pupils have shown extraordinary strength through adversity since the start of this pandemic. He says, “Many are understandably anxious about the cancellation of their exams and the as-yet unknown grading process. However, our principle of +2 has been brought into sharp focus for many. It is an aspiration and a mind-set that encourages pupils to project themselves two years into the future; so for our sixth formers, this involves proactively planning and preparing for university and beyond. In lockdown, Sixth Form tutor groups have been channelling their energy into their own ‘Change-maker’ initiatives by seeking to have a positive impact in the local area by supporting food banks, local charities and community groups. We have also set up a series of ‘LWC Focus’ talks that have helped pupils to make up for cancelled internships and work experience by connecting with a wide range of Sternians (old boys and girls), parents and friends of the College”.
Key here has been the way that the support has been offered – Tom readily admits that a fine balance must be struck; there is no point in looking ahead if teenagers feel that their future prospects have been shattered by the impact of the pandemic. Any such work must handled with sensitivity, and is best delivered alongside well-being programmes.
Ann Jackson, Pastoral Deputy Head at Dauntsey’s School reports that their pastoral care programme is well supported by two school counsellors, based in the Medical Centre and to whom pupils, parents and teachers can refer – there is no additional cost for a pupil to access this service.
Dauntsey’s also offers a “Listening Service”, comprising of 28 volunteer listeners ranging from Year 10 to Upper Sixth pupils. Each volunteer receives training focussing on safeguarding and confidentiality, and gives guidance on how to provide support and when to refer pupils to a counsellor or a member of the pastoral team. Listeners are identified by a silver badge on their jacket or blazer and posters are displayed around school with contact details of the listeners, along with those of the school safeguarding leads and counsellors. Pupils can chat to listeners anywhere in the school and there is also a meeting room dedicated to the service. Topics vary widely, but often relate to stress and anxiety, homesickness and friendship issues. Carol Couple, School Counsellor, oversees them and trains the listeners – she is ably supported by her trained therapy dog, Hollie!
Ann Jackson comments, “Good mental health and wellbeing must be embedded into the culture of all our schools. It is encouraging to see that the conversation around mental health is growing nationally and with high profile campaigns encouraging us to talk about how we feel, it is important that pupils can access the support that they need and it is reassuring for pupils and parents to see that talking about worries and emotions is part of the culture at school”.
Diana Cree, Lancing College’s Director of External Relations, recognises that progression into employment is different for every child. Some students have a clear career goal from an early stage and for others the road is less clear; she sees the school’s role as being there to support the individual needs of each child.
Pupils at Lancing have received their own personalised career profile since 2019 and this has been followed up for Year 11 pupils with specialist careers advice; 79% of pupils have said that this has helped them think about career options. The personal profile is a live assessment and can be redone at any time as career ideas develop. In the Sixth Form, options are expanded and explored further through Careers in Depth workshops, external speakers, workplace visits, tutor support, and links with OL professional networks. Last term alone over 45 OLs and parents were involved in supporting current pupils through the various activities in the My Future programme. After leaving, pupils become OLs and gain access to the online portal Lancing Connected, where they can network with over 1,000 former pupils spread around the world working in a host of different areas.
Having read the Mental Health Foundation’s article and feeling shocked by some of the pretty distressing statistics therein, it is so important that the issue of mental health support and well-being for the young continues to rise closer to the surface. Let’s keep doing something about it, and of course let’s celebrate when we see it being done well.