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Perthshire school creates safe space for boys to discuss mental health during lockdown

David Barnes, deputy head of pastoral at Strathallan School with pupil Andre Kalama before lockdown.
David Barnes, deputy head of pastoral at Strathallan School with pupil Andre Kalama before lockdown.

A Perthshire school has inspired pupils to talk about their mental health concerns with their peers during lockdown.

Strathallan School, near Forgandenny, has adapted remote learning to emphasise the importance of communication after pupils shared their anxieties around loneliness.

Brothers Be is one of the new groups to emerge from the fee-paying school which urges boys in S5 and S6 to share their feelings.

The school has also been using Children’s Mental Health Week, which runs from February 1 to 7, to promote resources available for parents and children.

Encouraging conversation

David Barnes, deputy head of pastoral, said the group, which is led by senior pupils and facilitated by school staff, meet on Zoom regularly and it is hoped they can keep the momentum going once pupils are back in school.

“As men we are not very good at talking about important things and that starts from a young age,” he said. “But the younger generation are more open to having a dialogue about mental health.

“The boys can appear anonymously and it basically tries to create a safe space to discuss their mental health and anything that’s bothering them.

“We’ve started to get a bit of momentum going, and my vision for once we’re back in school is to use the outside campfire space to transfer these discussions into real life when the boys are more confident.

“We would love to roll that out to the wider community to boys from a variety of backgrounds in Perth and Kinross.”

Coping with lockdown

There are approximately 540 pupils from over 30 different nationalities at the Perthshire school and Mr Barnes said it has been tough for many to adapt to their new school environment.

He said: “We found from feedback from our youngsters that they’ve struggled with missing each other and missing the routine. Even the boring, predictable stuff that kids moan about all of the time.

“The overwhelming feeling when we got them back into school in August was just a massive relief to see each other again physically.”

To help support pupils, the school has adapted lessons to encourage pupils to talk to each other without focussing on schoolwork.

“We’re using breakout rooms to put kids together to do collaborative tasks where the teacher can drop in and out. It’s the idea that not only are they working together but they’re much more likely to feel confident in putting their cameras on and actually talking to each other,” Mr Barnes added.

Role models

The school has also enlisted some former students to help motivate and encourage the Strathallan pupils to talk about their health.

Former pupil Nathan Young-Coombes, who plays for Rangers FC, used the school’s Instagram page to inspire pupils in a live Q&A last month.

The 17-year-old, who left the school in 2018, spoke to pupils about the difficulties of living away from home as a young footballer.

Mr Barnes said he hoped the pupils would be able to relate to the young role models who are experiencing similar concerns.

There are also 33 international pupils boarding at the school during lockdown after returning from their Christmas break early to complete a 10-day quarantine.

However almost half-way through their isolation it was announced remote learning would be extended.

The children, who are from countries such as the USA, Mexico, China and Germany, are being supported by teachers on campus as well as NHS Tayside and Protect Scotland.

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Mr Barnes said: “They were kind of trapped after committing to being here in order to prepare for the start of term.

“They’ve got the option to go back home but they have chosen to stick it out because if they do go back home, they’re going to have to isolate away from everyone again.

“We’re nurturing them in two households – a boys’ family and a girls’ family and they’re attending classes online from their boarding houses.

“They’re bizarrely really enjoying it because in a sense they can spend time with their peers in their bubble.”

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