The power of 'ordinary magic'

Highlights from a University of Brighton conference held on 26 June 2019: ‘Developing and embedding a whole school approach to Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing’

In a context where approximately three children in each classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder (ONS Overview of UK population, 2016), the phrase ‘ordinary magic’ was at the heart of at a conference held at the University of Brighton this week.

In her opening remarks to conference, Professor Debra Humphris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton, emphasised some of the opportunities made possible by linking the University of Brighton with the Academies Trust:

“I am delighted that we have the Academies Trust in our family. It does brilliant work strengthening schools, improving children’s lives and supporting teachers. We must support our children who are our future and we need to boost the talent of our nation by doing so in a compassionate and supportive way.” 

Judy Perraton, Schools' and Colleges' Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing Adviser, East Sussex County Council, explained that this ‘ordinary magic’ was found in “small, everyday actions, noticing when people are not ok.”

Stuart Gallimore, Director of Children’s Services East Sussex County Council, elaborated further, quoting psychologist Dr Ann Masten of the University of Minnesota:

“Resilience does not come from rare and special qualities but from the everyday magic of ordinary resources in the minds, brains, and bodies or ordinary children, in their families and relationships, and in their communities.”

Hilary Morawska, Principal of The Hastings Academy, part of the University of Brighton’s Academies Trust,  led a workshop outlining the school’s innovative approach to pastoral care:

“For our students whose emotional literacy is far behind those of their peers, we transition them, in Year 7, through our Thrive centres. Many of the more-worrying behaviours seen in our students stem from unmet social and emotional needs which lead to a poorly developed stress-regulation system. Behaviours that are disruptive or aggressive, or children who are chronically anxious or withdrawn are triggered by the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response when the child or young person has limited or no ability to regulate their emotions.”

Based on neuroscience and attachment theory, the Thrive Approach offers a dynamic, developmental, trauma sensitive approach that helps academy staff interpret the behaviour and meet the emotional and social needs of children and young people. 

Hilary explained that the school’s ambitious vision extends supportive mental health provision for all students:

“Every young person at The Hastings Academy takes part in a wealth of opportunities which inspire and motivate them to become ambitious, resilient individuals. Every young person at The Hastings Academy is given outstanding careers education, advice, information and guidance on all career pathways so that our young people know what to do to be successful, to go to university or to achieve an apprenticeship and to achieve their dreams.”

In addition to outlining an interlinked set of activities aimed at boosting mental health and resilience, Hilary highlighted the links to the University of Brighton, who sponsor The Hastings Academy and a family of 14 other Sussex-based schools through its Academies Trust.

“We ensure our students from year 7 to year 10 visit the university where they engage with undergraduates to realise this could be their potential, too.”

The conference was jointly organised by Michelle Tarling, outreach manager at the University of Brighton Widening Participation team and Judy Perraton of the East Sussex County Council.

The University of Brighton Academies Trust is a not-for-profit charitable trust comprising 15 schools across Sussex aimed at boosting opportunities for children to enjoy brighter futures.