Sheffield primary school receives trauma training to tackle mental health ‘emergency’

A Sheffield primary school headteacher has told how she felt she had “no choice” but to have staff trained in dealing with childhood trauma.

By Lauren White
Monday, 17th January 2022, 2:43 pm
Headteacher Gemma Harvey and Wellbeing Lead Marie Baxter in Meersbrook Bank Primary School’s ‘Sparkle Room’
Headteacher Gemma Harvey and Wellbeing Lead Marie Baxter in Meersbrook Bank Primary School’s ‘Sparkle Room’

Gemma Harvey, headteacher at Meersbrook Bank Primary School, said: “Mental health is the big national emergency, and in terms of dealing with trauma as it is happening, rather than letting children deal with it alone, schools are an emergency service really.”

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As Wellbeing Lead at the school, Marie Baxter is studying for a diploma in trauma and mental health.

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Once completed, her training will be fed back to all staff in Meersbrook Bank Primary.

“I couldn’t see a child going through the same as me,” Miss Baxter said.

“I want to make a difference for the children, so they know they have got somebody they can turn to.”

Children at the school can attend drop-in sessions with Miss Baxter in the ‘Sparkle Room’ to chat through any issues they are facing.

The room was renovated during the summer by staff, with the help of their families and donations from parents.

It is a multi-sensory area where children are encouraged to express themselves through play and drawing, under the supervision of an ‘emotionally available’ adult.

The training, provided by Trauma Informed Schools UK (TIS UK), teaches staff relevant techniques to help children experiencing issues such as bereavement or domestic abuse.

Julie Harmieson, the organisation’s Director of Education and National Strategy, explained that adults just listening to children has a profound impact on their lives.

She said: “The reality is teachers and school staff are currently responding to trauma, and the training means children will be supported from an informed perspective.”

According to official NHS data released last year, one in six children aged between five and 16 were identified as having a diagnosable mental health condition.

Child psychologist at the University of Sheffield, Dr Penny Fogg, agrees that children being supported by informed staff is better than the alternative.

But Dr Fogg highlighted her concerns that teachers are being left to deal with children’s mental health, rather than qualified psychologists, due to pressure on mental health services.

She said: “We can’t expect schools to meet really significant amounts of need. Professionals need to be working in partnership with schools.”