Pupil wellbeing and mental health is, of course, top of mind for anyone working with young people today. Dollar Academy has worked hard in recent years to update its PSE curriculum, introduce a school counsellor, track and monitor pupil wellbeing in a more rigorous way. And, as Mr Simon Burbury (Assistant Rector) says, ‘Our pupils are generally very happy—they feel on top of their work and are content. We are always looking for ways to be better, and all our surveys suggest our pupils are faring very well.’
Dollar’s staff and pupils consider themselves fortunate to work in a positive environment, situated in stunning countryside. But a new set of studies commissioned by Education International in 2017 offers an eye-opener for educators and policy makers alike. Scotland was one of the first countries to be surveyed, and ‘a striking 78 percent of teachers do not feel they are able to have a good work-life balance.’ Nationally, stress levels and staff absences are on the rise with many teachers leaving the profession. It is clear that schools must act to improve the wellbeing of all staff. So, to help staff mitigate the workload and address any work-life imbalance, Dollar is adopting a number of innovations, including the in-service wellbeing sessions. A staff wellbeing booklet is in production, too, and there are attempts to make counselling and support services easier to access and less stigmatised.
The most visibly impressive feature of the school’s new approach to staff wellbeing is its serious investment in a modern, technology-compatible gym, open for all to use. The new space features 14 spinning bikes with a widescreen television that periodically broadcasts spin training sessions; there are also 2 elite Watt bikes, 6 state-of-the-art treadmills (including a most intriguing ‘skill mill’), 2 elliptical machines, 2 rowing machines, 2 upright bikes and a QueenAxe machine (a unique modular functional training system). Elite though some of the equipment is, this is not a gym reserved for the exclusive use of the school’s star rugby and hockey players. ‘This gym is quite unique in schools across Scotland,’ said Mr Newton (Head of PE), ‘and it is a gym for all.’
Dollar’s recent wellbeing hour was widely embraced by the school’s staff. There was a buzz about it in the corridors and classrooms during the day and in the days that followed. ‘It was great, simply to be told that it was OK to sit in the Library and read!’ said one teacher. And easy access to the school’s new gym facilities will encourage participation. A teacher who has spent an hour on a spinning machine, breathlessly chatting to a colleague, may well go away happier, fitter and able to work more effectively. For many, this was one of the best parts of this year’s in-service programme. Ultimately, as Dollar’s Rector, David Knapman, points out, ‘A child’s education depends on their teachers being happy, valued and highly motivated.’