Looking after student and staff wellbeing during exam season: Part 3 of 3

Revision Peace of mind from Oxford

The importance of wellbeing has been an ever-present thought at our academy, especially over the last few years. The most prominent reason being the pandemic. Which has shown that it is paramount to look after the wellbeing of both staff and students. 

Since I became a teacher in 2017, there have been a lot of conversations about the importance of wellbeing, and even more so since March 2020.  Without wellbeing teachers would be unable to teach and students unable to learn. We need to have a positive mindset to achieve our targets.

The impact over the past couple of years has been gargantuan.  A ‘normal’ school year is stressful enough for Year 11 with the pressure of examinations; coursework; future career considerations; college applications; plus being a hormonal teenager.  Take all that into consideration, add the Covid-19 pandemic and wellbeing starts to slowly wither and becomes difficult to grasp on to.  Students’ wellbeing is suffering greatly and the past few months have been extremely difficult for all, with uncertainty around whether students would complete examinations or in-class assessments. These students now know they face examination whilst having missed the majority of their Year 10 GCSE lessons and some of this year’s lessons too due to both positive Covid-19 cases or anxiety from being placed in a school of over a thousand people and not knowing what society currently looks like – their stress levels are increasing with the amount of pressure – it becomes suffocating.

The support at our school comes in many different shapes and sizes but the most impactful one is our ‘Thrive’ area.  ‘Thrive’ is our wellbeing area where students who are struggling in lessons can go to have a ‘wellbeing’ break.  If they are struggling or everything is getting a bit too much ‘Thrive’ is a student’s short-term problem to support their wellbeing.  Our long-term solution is the ‘Hub’.  The ‘Hub’ was created as a tool to deal with long-term issues with mental health and wellbeing.  We have a number of students that have reintegrated themselves back into the school through using the ‘Hub’ first to adjust their anxiety levels.  During the exam season, ‘Thrive’ and the ‘Hub’ do become busier as, naturally, students become stressed and are working too hard and are increasingly struggling with their anxiety.  The difference between the two are: ‘Thrive’ is an intervention for short term anxiety problems in a lesson; the ‘Hub’ is an intervention for long term problems where the students are struggling to come into school due to anxiety levels.

Additionally, we run revision workshops with external companies that teach students a variety of ways to revise to help them decide what works best for them.  We run period six sessions which support students with a fortnightly timetable.  We also have a breakfast revision morning before exams to make sure students have had a nutritious breakfast before going into their exams.  It is a great way to ensure students are eating and they are also surrounded by their peers.

Maintaining wellbeing is also important for staff.  Most staff have struggled at some point in the last two years due to the expectations and workload that society has placed on them.  Staff wellbeing is exceedingly important at our school.  Staff do not feel that when SLT come into the classroom they are trying to ‘trip them up’: they feel that SLT are there to support them.  We pride ourselves on having an open door policy where SLT can pop in and ask students what they have been learning.  We also have ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’ on the last Wednesday of every half term where staff go home at 2:10pm.  This has encouraged many discussions as to what staff have planned for this Wednesday every half term.

The most effective thing I would recommend for any school trying to prioritise wellbeing for students is to have a safe place where students can go to and someone they can talk to.  This is the first step in ensuring students feel safe to talk about their feelings and share their anxieties.  It also helps promote a culture of nurturing students and supporting their wellbeing.  These steps to promote wellbeing have taken a long time to embed at our school but the result has been nothing but positive.

My top five tips for students to help reduce anxiety around exams:

  1. Create a revision timetable and stick to it – spend time actually looking at when your exams are and find the best time to revise specific subjects.
  2. Find the best way to revise for you, whether that be: sticky notes, sticky tabs, revision guides.
  3. Speak to your teachers – teachers are there to help students and our doors are always open.
  4. Utilise what the school is offering – go to the period six sessions or tuition sessions that are on.  Use what you need to, to do the best that you can do.
  5. Find time for you – make sure you do spend some time, every week, just for you – relax – do an activity –  something that you really enjoy.

Holly Jukes | Director of Literacy | Ormiston Horizon Academy