St George’s school feels very out of place in Mayfair. Between high rise office blocks, parked Porsches and sharp suited business people is a little Church of England primary school. Despite the expensive postcode there is a healthy mixture of children from all walks of life, with 20 per cent who regularly attended church, 17 per cent Muslim and the rest professing to a range of other beliefs and none.
Head teacher Judith Standing and assistant head Petra Slater proudly spoke about the achievements of their school and their dedication to the children was tangible. When we chatted about mental health, the tone changed. They reported anxiety and issues surrounding their pupil’s mental health. Particularly among the year 6 pupils, the pressure to achieve good SATs grades along with a wealth of extracurricular activities and everything else needed to get a place in good secondary schools left the children struggling to cope. Some pressure may be from parents. Some is from the pupils themselves. Judith said: “We hear it a lot, I need to get this grade, I need to do that. The pressure is not from us. We just want our pupils to be happy and fulfilled. But there is a lot going on in their lives.”
The issues in St George’s are not unique. One in five children under 11 will experience a mental health difficulty. Many adults trace their issues to their childhood. But 64 per cent of primary school children who have requested access to a counsellor have not received the help they need.
The school decided they wanted to provide prayer activities that allowed the children to process their worries. Prayer spaces popped up in their schools. This Easter was their chance to make a splash with this. They decided to set up an Easter journey, exploring each element of the story with particular activities allowing the children to process it within their own personal lives.
They used a mixture of activities from Prayer Spaces in Schools and Jumping Fish’s Experience Easter. The former made the sessions interactive, and Jumping Fish gave a helpful script for teachers to follow, particularly for those who do not feel as confident in delivering this. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet set an example of kindness to apply to their own lives. Gethsemane reminded them of those still persecuted for following Jesus. The stones they picked gave them a prayer technique to place their worries before God. The tomb station scattered wildflower seeds to remember fresh beginnings.
Although the Rector of St George’s is heavily involved in the school, they had difficulty finding input from local church members available to help out. So the head and assistant head embarked on a journey to set up something that told the Easter story in a way that provided coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with the mounting pressure they felt in their daily lives.
If you’re not already involved in your local school, find out if they need help with their mental health awareness. Prayer is a powerful and – in some cases – untapped way of coping with our worries. The story of St George’s reminds us that schools are open to faith-based support.
If you already are involved, are you helping with the children’s mental health support? It’s likely the school is struggling with this, and you could be just the help they need.