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Last Friday our pastoral team was invited to speak at a conference at West Lodge in Hadley Wood. For me, this was particularly exciting as, until now, visiting West Lodge had been strictly off limits. In the 1970s, having afternoon tea at West Lodge was probably the poshest thing anyone could do, but my granny, a regular at this Hertfordshire hotel, never invited me on account of my unpredictable table manners and behaviour. ‘You won’t be invited for tea at West Lodge’ is indeed engraved on Granny’s headstone.

The conference was organised by our network of schools in Highgate and Muswell Hill, who came together to launch an initiative to improve mental health and wellbeing in our school communities. Given that last year Highgate Primary achieved the Guardian Public Service Award in the category of ‘Health and Wellbeing’, it was felt that we might have something useful to contribute.

The keynote speaker for the day was Dr Janet Rose, an expert in early child development – which is probably just as well since she is also the current Principal at Norland College (nannies to the rich and famous). Janet introduced the day with a fascinating talk about children’s emotional development, within which she described the process through which children develop a secure attachment to their primary carers. Very simply, in order to thrive, all children need to feel safe, secure, soothed and seen. Children with a strong attachment will better regulate their emotions and be ready to face the challenges of life with confidence.

Teachers will regularly talk about children exhibiting attention seeking behaviour. With a class of 30, one child shouting out, showing off and drawing attention for doing the wrong things can have its challenges. The temptation is always not to reward negative attention, as it will only validate it and allow it to continue.  This makes sense until ‘attention seeking behaviour’ is renamed ‘attachment seeking behaviour’ – which changes everything. In many cases, children disrupting, shouting out, acting out are clearly telling us that they need to be noticed – and the reaction has to be give attention, and lots of it.

From listening to what Janet had to say, it was very satisfying to feel a sense of validation in our approach to both behaviour management and pastoral care at Highgate Primary, in particular that of our team of professionals who work therapeutically in a range of ways with children and families. These weekly one-to-one sessions are invaluable and help the children to feel safe, secure, soothed and seen. The impact on classroom behaviour is tangible – most of the time, our classes have a real sense of calm.

I only hope that all this attention on developing children’s wellbeing will mean that our pupils are soon able to take tea at West Lodge.


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