A Wokingham headteacher was one of many across the country to take part in a gruelling fundraising challenge in Wales last week.
Raising money for the mental health charity Place2be, the 21 prep school headmasters – including Ludgrove School’s Simon Barber – took on a three-mile sea kayak, a 50-mile bike ride followed by a 13-mile hike up in Preseli Venture in West Wales on Tuesday, August 27.
After putting their heads together, the heads named the challenge ‘Heads Up’, and were out from dawn till dusk, returning home at 9pm.
Mr Barber said: “It was a thoroughly worthwhile event and hopefully we have raised awareness. Mental health is a very important issue in education at the moment.”
The first leg of the challenge was “rather pleasurable”, according to Mr Barber, despite starting it before the sun had risen.
“The sea was as flat as a pancake,” he said. “The Welsh countryside is beautiful, so we got off the kayaks feeling rather upbeat about life – although it could have been awful.
“The 50-mile bike ride was challenging – Wales isn’t always flat.”
The hike followed the long afternoon on the bikes, before all the headteachers were all able to head home, leaving them feeling “knackered, chuffed, proud and tired”.
The headteachers met through a support network within the education sector, where they all try to share advice on best practice. Mr Barber added that they all try to look after each other, “particularly the new ones”.
Driven by the “sense of satisfaction” they got upon completing the challenge, Mr Barber said they have another challenge in the pipeline, turning it into an annual event.
Yet, he was keen to point out that there’s a daily challenge for teachers: “keeping up the mental health agenda. For educational leaders every child has a voice, every child is important no matter how small.
“We do live in a more individualised society [now] which is good, and we can express opinions and be more individual.” But, he pointed out: “Anxiety and worry has definitely been on the rise.
“As a headmaster, all I want is happy kind boys with a sense of purpose. We are lucky enough that we have a lovely school here, but there are other schools who do need some help.”
Mr Barber said if you want a happy school, you have to be conscious of the mental health of your students, and that is where Place2be can help.
“The charity puts counsellors into schools and trains teachers to look out for pupils who don’t have a spring in their step.
“It is enabling children to access the curriculum who need particular help.”
He emphasised that you can never do too much for mental health. “I do believe that more and more work is being done and on the back of it, children are being able to access the curriculum.”
With the Duchess of Cambridge – Kate Middleton – as its royal patron, Place2be provides emotional and therapeutic services in primary and secondary schools.
It is one charity working with the national ‘Heads Together’ campaign, which aims to change the conversation on mental wellbeing.
The charity says one in eight children and young people has a mental health disorder. Half of those with lifetime mental health problems experience symptoms by the age of 14, and almost all school leaders (93%) tell us that pupils bring more into school than they did only five years ago. In turn, teaching staff then must manage issues which go beyond their professional role.
A spokesperson said: “Place2Be’s vision is for all children to have the vital support they need to help them build life-long coping skills and to thrive.
“We believe that no child should endure mental health problems alone.”
The group has so far raised £83,000 but hopes to reach £100,000.