There is no doubt that the pandemic has hit our wellbeing hard, perhaps particularly so in this most recent lockdown with its cold winter days and dark nights.
It has been especially tough for children, and in fact, research suggests that during the pandemic young people are more stressed, anxious, and depressed than other age groups. Being prohibited from meeting with friends and family, adapting to home learning, missing out on team sports and fixtures and uncertainty about exams, as well as general worries about what the longer-term future might hold, have all taken their toll.
School Counsellor Amanda Horlick-Coutts explained, “They have been stripped of so much, and a key part of what has been taken is human interaction and socialisation. There will, of course, be boys who thrive in a healthy home environment and are enjoying being away from the confines and structure of school, but there will be others who are isolated, lonely and struggling with things like anxiety and depression; these conditions may have been there previously but could be exacerbated by the lockdown.”
Bedford School has always had a strong pastoral focus, and the mental health of the boys is a high priority, perhaps now more than ever. Despite the geographical constraints and distance between us, through innovative use of technology the relationships, care for each individual and values that underpin our school community are very much still in action.
The school is taking care to check in with the boys in a variety of ways to ensure they are supporting them through this time, constantly evolving and changing, learning new ways of supporting the boys and adapting their approach accordingly. For example, encouraging boys to switch their camera on during lessons to promote better engagement, regular telephone call check-ins with parents, adapted lessons to regulate screen time more effectively and keeping as much sport and extracurricular going as possible, with timetabled PE lessons live-streamed from school to allow the boys to feel part of something collective, are just some of these ways.
In addition to the support given by teachers, one of our most valuable resources in school is our well-established counselling service, which has also moved online and continues to work its full hours. All boys are free contact the School Counsellor or the School Chaplain to gain help and support during difficult times. They are there to provide a safe and non-judgmental place for boys, staff and parents to talk through any difficulties. The hope is they can work collaboratively with the individual to find a way of coping, feeling happier or shifting their perspective.
“There are no longer face to face sessions, so there’s an element of human interaction and connection lost. To counter this, the team and I are working in a number of creative ways to ensure that the boys and staff feel connected and supported. For instance, we use the chat feature on Teams or offer check-ins via email so that they can freely type.” explains School Counsellor, Amanda.
The Chapel also plays an important part in the life of the school community, and in normal times there is a regular pattern of services and assemblies which take place. One of the biggest benefits to the boys, and indeed one of the greatest joys of our Chaplain’s role, is informally dropping in on the various groups that make up our school community and having boys and staff drop into his study or classroom. This informal pastoral contact affords the opportunity to explore anxieties and worries, to ask questions, and to seek reassurance when needed. With the transition to online learning and online life, this becomes much more difficult. However, as well as individual contact online, there have been opportunities for our Chaplain to drop into tutor groups online and to gather small groups to attend the traditional night prayer service of Compline together. He also hosts a weekly film club with input and participation from across the breadth of the school community.
School Chaplain Neil McCleery told us, “This balance of online group opportunities and availability at the end of an email or Teams message cannot replace ‘in person’ contact to which we long to return, but it goes some way toward establishing stability and support in trying times. Efforts to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year, particularly important this year for boys who find themselves far from home, are in the planning stages, and it is important that we remember that we are a global community centred on Bedford School, and that friendships and support networks are more important now than ever.”
Education is about much more than academic lessons and qualifications – a boy’s happiness is likely to reside in a nurturing of his self-confidence and an ability to form solid friendships. Our whole school ethos is set up to provide boys with a holistic education, living by our core values, integrity, responsibility, curiosity, endeavour, and of course, kindness, which underpins everything we do.
If you or your son would like the support of the School Counsellor or Chaplain, they can speak to their Tutor, Housemaster, the medical centre, or they can email firstname.lastname@example.org.