Penrice Academy recognised for outstanding provision of mental health and wellbeing support

There was cause for celebration at Penrice Academy this week after it was announced that they were the first ever UK mainstream secondary school to achieve the Trauma and Mental Health Informed Schools Award.

Accredited by Trauma Informed Schools (TIS), the award recognises Penrice Academy for outstanding provision of mental health and wellbeing support.

A trauma informed school is one that is ‘able to support children and teenagers who suffer with trauma or mental health problems and whose troubled behaviour acts as a barrier to learning.’

Penrice now joins the ranks of only a handful of primary schools and a few specialist education providers up and down the country to be recognised with this accolade.

An extract from the report reads:

Promoting positive mental health and supporting vulnerable children and young people is at the heart of the work of Penrice Academy. It is embedded in the culture and the ethos of the school. Senior leaders understand that this has to be in place before effective learning can take place. It is key as to why the school achieves the outcomes it does.

The school’s official inspection took place on Thursday 29 April with the TIS inspector observing the school’s ethos and atmosphere, performing lesson drop-ins, conducting student panels, staff panels, two focus groups, and a meeting with the Principal and the designated safeguarding lead.

Mrs Kirsty Taylor, Head of Year 7 and Emotional Mental Health and Well-being Lead at Penrice Academy said:

“We are delighted to receive this recognition from TIS. For us, as a school in Cornwall, to be ahead of the game at something as important as mental health and wellbeing is imperative.

Helping young people to become more resilient and to help them build that range of strategies to cope makes a huge difference. We all get anxious, we all have times when things don’t quite go right, and to teach the strategies for how to cope during challenging times is a skill for life.

The Trauma Informed School’s programme has acted as the scaffolding to support the existing mental health and wellbeing infrastructure within Penrice Academy, ensuring that everything is in place to support our young people.”

Trauma Informed Schools UK are the workforce training provider for HeadStart Kernow, part of a £9.8 million Big Lottery funded programme aimed at developing resilience and mental wellbeing in young people aged 10-16 years.

The project was launched off the back of research which identified rising numbers of children presenting mental health difficulties in schools with half of cases of diagnosed mental illness beginning before the age of 14, and 75% before the age of 18.

The research found that many children have a high ACE score (meaning multiple adverse childhood experiences) known to leave children at risk of mental and physical ill-health later in life and even early death.

With children spending 190 days a year at school, TIS believe that schools are very well placed to pick up the baton and help these children.

The journey to becoming TIS accredited

The accreditation on Thursday 29 April was a key milestone in Penrice Academy’s provision of mental health and wellbeing that represents just the tip of the iceberg to years of hard work.

There were 33 distinct aspects of emotional health and wellbeing support that needed to be evidenced in order to reach the final assessment day.

Ms Hooper and Mrs Taylor were the first teachers at the school to be trained up to become Trauma and Mental Health practitioners back in 2018. This involved a 10 day training course taking place over a number of months.

Mrs Taylor explained:

“A lot of the course content focused on the learning process and the neuroscience behind learning behaviours. At the end of the course we had to put into practice everything we’d learnt, and then we studied a further two days in order to gain our diplomas.”

Since 2018, the school has continued to work tirelessly in this area, training up a further four members of staff in order to absolutely embed, develop and enhance the infrastructure that was already in place.

Mrs Taylor said:

“We’ve completed a lot of work on something we call Compassionate Classrooms. This is aimed at training all Penrice teachers on the neuroscience behind child behaviour. We’ve also brought in our student mental health and wellbeing policy and our relationships policy, so that’s the paperwork that supports and underpins everything.

We’ve launched support initiatives at both ends of the age spectrum. For our youngest students, we have put in place specialist practitioners that focus on Year 6 students ahead of starting in Year 7, working on their anxiety and self-esteem, building that confidence. For GCSE students, we’ve hosted anxiety and pre-exam nerves groups to help them cope with the pressure of assessments.”

The news of the award arrived in the same week that Penrice Academy launched its latest mental health and wellbeing initiative, having just trained their inaugural cohort of Us Plus student mentors; an 18-strong Year 9 team of young people able to support the emotional, mental health and wellbeing of their peers, particularly those in the younger year groups.

Scarlett, in Year 9, commented on the Us Plus scheme and said:

“It is nice for people to be able to have students in Year 9 that they are able to talk to. It offers a different channel to a teacher; it doesn’t have to be a big thing and they can talk to us if they’re feeling low or having an off day.”

Final words

In recognition of being the first mainstream secondary school, Julie Harmieson, Co-Director of TIS UK said:

“The journey to becoming a Trauma and Mental Health Informed school is just that – it’s not a destination that is ever arrived at – we look for embedded practice and a reflective environment that supports further development and this is evident in the ethos and culture at Penrice.

Promoting positive mental health and supporting vulnerable children and young people is at the heart of the work of the Academy, from the meet and greet policy to support connection with every student, to tutor time dedicated to wellbeing with the teachers who know them best. The school has adopted the term compassionate classrooms and significantly children report that staff prioritise them feeling safe and well.”

Penrice Academy will now hold the TIS accreditation for 3 years before they are assessed again.