Guardian Public Service Awards 2017 health and wellbeing winner: Highgate primary school

The Guardian reports that statistics show that one in 10 children – or an average of three children in every classroom – has a diagnosable mental health problem, and 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health issues have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early stage.

It is against this backdrop – and the school funding crisis – that Highgate primary school has transformed the usual pastoral care function with an innovative new grassroots model that has achieved incredible results and made it the winner in the health and wellbeing category of the 2017 Guardian Public Service Awards.

One in four children at the school is eligible for the pupil premium grant, 30% receive free school meals and a high proportion speak an additional language; more than 40 other languages are spoken at the school. Issues that have affected some of the schoolchildren include bereavement, divorce and domestic violence.

The project is led by child psychotherapist, Katy Whitney. “I’m a bit like an onsite social worker, as I am also the safeguarding lead,” she says. “I support all the children’s and families’ needs, and liaise with all relevant professionals.”

Wanting to develop a systemic and holistic approach, Whitney and the school created a therapeutic service in partnership with training organisations that needed to find placements for trainees. The team of 12 psychotherapists and counsellors – made up of newly qualified volunteers and trainees, plus a wellbeing practitioner and a sports mentor – is responsible for the health and wellbeing of more than 450 children, 18 teachers and all support staff.

“We don’t want child protection to be seen as punitive,” says Whitney. “We want to give families the support they need, so they don’t have to be referred to social care. Because the service is so embedded in the school, there is no stigma attached to using it.”

The project, evaluated annually, costs just £8,500 a year and is already proving its value: there have been no permanent exclusions this year and referrals to child and adolescent mental health services have also been cut to zero. Behaviour has significantly improved and staff wellbeing and retention has also increased.

Read more Guardian Public Service Awards 2017 health and wellbeing winner: Highgate primary school

Congratulations Highgate primary school. Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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