25 years ago, safeguarding was something which a few people in specialist roles thought about, and which had to fit in around everyone, and everything, else. Now, thankfully, safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and it comes first. The same revolution needs to take place in how we think about teenage wellbeing.
In recent years, enlightened schools have employed people to look after teenagers – counsellors, psychiatrists, and other specialists. More recently, the schools at the forefront of thinking on wellbeing have begun to change the model: instead of specialists to whom wellbeing can be delegated so that everyone else can get on with the real work, the go-to-senior-wellbeing-person in school has a different role.
A Deputy Head Wellbeing has a role which is to oversee the equipping, training, recruitment and ‘supervision’ of all staff in wellbeing roles, in a similar way to that in which a Deputy Head Academic does for academic staff, and a Deputy Head Pastoral does for pastoral staff. The difference is that all staff are ‘wellbeing staff’, because everyone has to be in position to catch if a teenager is about to fall.
So far so good – in schools. What about the world around schools? It’s now commonly understood that everyone has a role in helping schools to do safeguarding, whether they work in a local planning department, police force, or library, or are parents, visitors or neighbours of a school. The media has played a role, investigating and unmasking those who posed a safeguarding threat.
Contrast this with wellbeing: it’s exam result week, and so it’s easy to observe that Ofqual and awarding bodies have a role to play here, along with the DfE and those who design our curricula. I don’t think these groups are yet playing their part in this important area.
The environment around teenagers also includes the print, broadcast and online mass-media, politicians, social media providers and ISPs. Recent articles which have demonstrated that there are many different routes through education, not one right or ‘better’ route, have made a positive contribution to ensuring that vulnerable young people are not vilified for failing to live up to stereotyped expectations. ‘Broadsheet’ newspapers (whatever they are, now that we all read our news online) have helped to mitigate the peculiarly British obsession with cognitive education, and its apparent superiority over technical education, and to provide balance.
In the future, long after I have retired, I expect that a society which regards the wellbeing of the young (and old – but that’s another story) as a collective responsibility will allow that generation of young people to have fewer growing pains than this generation.