Students at Aureus School in Oxfordshire who feel at risk of misbehaving are encouraged to “self-refer” to a nurture room to watch an aquarium or “sit and smell in the darkness”, says Julie Hunter, the school’s deputy headteacher.
“To nurture their minds, we need to support them, maybe by giving them that time in a space that might be more useful than being sat in a punishment room,” Hunter told school leaders at the SSAT conference in Birmingham last week.
Students who tend to have “hot spots” in their school day are allocated a “nurture card” that allows them to self-refer to the nurture room where they’ll “make a diagnosis, triage”.
“Do they just need to sit in the nurture room, watching the aquarium, then they can self-regulate and go back to class, or do they actually need more of a proactive approach and go into the sensory room and just sit and smell in the darkness, or sit under a weighted blanket for 15 minutes, then go back into class?
“Some teachers would say that’s a loss of academic learning. And I would say, ‘A brain in pain cannot access learning’ and actually, a student needs to be ready to learn.”
Hunter, who is trained in mental health first-aid, mindfulness and the science of happiness, has helped to develop a whole-school well-being programme for Aureus, which opened last September. It includes half an hour of mindful art, reading, science or movement for all pupils every morning.
This means that when the year 7 and 8 students “hit their first academic lesson at 9 o’clock, they are recalibrated and ready for learning, no matter what their breakfast experience was, or their journey to school”.
The science team takes a neuroscience approach to its “menu of mindfulness activities”, teaching “the biology of why as a teenager you’re feeling anxious,” Hunter said. “It’s perfectly normal the way you’re feeling, but you need to understand the science behind what’s happening in your brain, then how to control it.”
Rather than traditional silent reading, the English team prepares half an hour of “mindful reading”, using “a specially scripted values-based story” based on actual events that have happened in the past couple of weeks. This means that while the students are reading about fictional characters, “they are actually working through difficulties their peers have had in school”.