Healthy Minds. As featured in Absolutely Education magazine

Posted: 29th March 2023

Healthy Minds.

Knightsbridge School’s pioneering Place2Be partnership prioritises good mental health across the whole community. Absolutely Education finds out more.

Child mental health has risen up the agenda over the past decade. This is thanks, in part, to landmark work by the charity Place2Be. High-profile support – notably from HRH The Princess of Wales – has helped to spread the message about the value of early support to build children’s wellbeing and their ability to talk through emotions and problems. It’s so obviously a good idea that it’s easy to forget we weren’t always so attuned to the challenges young people face.

Knightsbridge School stands out for spotting the need early. KS Principal and Founder Magoo Giles brought Place2Be into the school back in 2014 as a partnership. It was the first independent day school to take this step. The partnership is supported enthusiastically by pupils, parents and staff – all benefit from Place2Be’s independent counselling support and advice service.

Paula Losch is the School Project Manager for Place2Be and is based at KS for three days a week. While she is employed by the charity, she considers herself part of the school team and is very much involved with day-to-day life. “Anyone can talk to me – we offer a service to the parents, the students and the staff,” she says, adding: “As Mr Magoo always says, ‘It’s a compassion service’”. Compassion is an important word here – offering a service that anyone can use freely helps to embed a mindset of self-care, also, as one staff member put it: ‘a level playing field’.

Visibility is key to this school culture. Take, for instance, the location of the Place2Be office, a few steps from the school’s dining hall – a place children pass every day. This reinforces the idea that it’s as normal to tend to your mind as to refuel your body. There’s an open-door approach – so any child or young person can knock on the door for a ‘Place2Talk’ session and get counselling for whatever is bothering them.
It might be worries about work, friends, or something that makes them sad – perhaps the absence of a family member or loss of a pet. There are other ways to approach Place2Be. Children can leave a slip in a box, ask their teacher to book them in or their parents can email at any time.

“When a child comes to us, what we do, depends on the child,” says Paula Losch. “Children communicate in so many ways and are eager to express themselves. We offer them a safe space to share their feelings and thoughts verbally, but also through art and play.” Alongside one-to-one chats, there are in-class circle times where children are encouraged to discuss issues together. This feeds back into the knowledge KS and Place2Be have of wider potential problems – think of it as an early warning system for the issues that might be coming down the track.

Parents can and do access support, too. This is a vital part of the service, and what KS calls the Parent Partnership. Family therapy is offered, along with one-to-one support if parents request it. “It’s not an easy job parenting,” says Paula Losch. “It’s difficult for everyone. We’re not there to humiliate or shame any parent. We offer this to parents to empower them and say, ‘you know, it’s really not easy, what can we do to support you in this?’.”

Knightsbridge School has a very international cohort, wonderful for the life and spirit of the community, but it can bring its own difficulties. Families may be a long way from home and their own support networks, and they may be adjusting to life in a busy city environment. And, like every school, KS feels the impact of geopolitics – for instance, there are families from Ukraine and Russia here. While there can be worries specific to families, Paula Losch says parents around the world share a lot of common ground when it comes to concerns about their children. “Parents all deal with the same sorts of issues – children struggling with friendships, with anxiety related to friendships, to social media.”

With this in mind, Place2Be hosts a forum for parents every term on a key issue. This is ‘ear to the ground’ stuff gathered via in-class circle times or the things that individual students are mentioning. “Without divulging who brought the issues, we talk about the things we are hearing, the things our pupils are struggling with.” Parents can also flag up issues they are worried about – there’s a vibrant parent group called Knowledge Society, which co-ordinates many elements of the wider Parent Partnership.

All KS parents also have access to Place2Be’s Parenting Smart website and online courses – a series of online modules that talk about situations every parent deals with – such as setting boundaries, giving praise and reward and managing temper tantrums. It’s designed for parents of 4 to 11-year-olds and free to access.

There are, as we are all coming to realise, specific issues since the pandemic. Paula Losch shares that teenagers have been particularly badly affected. “We see more and more teenagers having issues with depression and thinking they’re not capable, and that it is all too much.” Pre and post pandemic, boys are harder to reach – more reluctant to get help when they are down – something the whole team at Place2Be are working hard to address. “Whereas girls come, they talk, and they are used to having support – and then they can work through their emotions,” says Paula Losch.

“That’s something therapy gives you – you become much more resourceful.” In other words, it builds tools and inner resources to help with current problems and problems you might face down the line. “Counselling is not about giving advice, but asking the right questions so that the child can find the best solution,” she adds.

And that’s the thing about Knightsbridge School’s work with Place2Be. It is embedding the kind of child-centred support that builds a toolkit, giving young people strength and resourcefulness for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
It’s a mark of how effective – and well- loved – the partnership has become that parents have made Place2Be a cornerstone charity, alongside Royal Chelsea Hospital and The Knightsbridge School Education Foundation (which provides generous full bursaries). This means Place2Be fundraising takes place all year round and KS has also helped to pass it forward by supporting its services in local partner state schools.

Speaking about the partnership, Head, Shona Colaço has said: “Place2Be has opened our young people’s eyes to the importance of good mental health and helped to nurture empathy and self- awareness in our school community. We owe it to our children to care for their mental and physical wellbeing as the springboard to success in school”.