CGGS approaches holistic pastoral care in different ways; one of them is through our Tutor Groups, where the principal relationship between teacher and student is central to delivery. Each tutor approaches skill development in a differentiated manner to best suit the students in their care. Some of the activities in tutor group include mindfulness, emotional literacy, goal setting, gratitude and self-compassion exercises, which are integral to building students’ mental wellbeing.
The CGGS Pastoral Care Program deliberately goes about addressing the wellbeing of its students in many forms using evidence-based research. The time devoted to learning in the mornings, during Tutor Group, is exceptionally valuable in combating the statistics of mental ill health.
Our school psychologist, Dr Abigail Fargher, observed:
As a school psychologist, I have noticed an improvement in student wellbeing/grounding this year. I believe part of this is due to the lengthened tutor group period each morning.
I think this longer period provides time for the students to become grounded and calm prior to a day of learning academically – it means students are having their prefrontal cortex activated (which is necessary for learning, concentration, decision making, etc.) rather than going into a day of learning with their limbic system (anxiety system) activated.
So to me, the tutor group period is an important time of brain activation especially for the more anxious girls, it shifts activity from limbic system to pre-frontal cortex.
A mid-19th century North American ‘factory model school’ form of education is fortunately a thing of the past. An era of pure standardisation and a focus on producing results frequently came at the expense of the individual and what that individual brought to the table. My mother reminisced recently about her experiences of teaching 99 students in Year 5 in Box Hill, Victoria in the late 1950s, post the Melbourne Olympics. As a member of a religious order, Mum was sent from Germany to educate ‘the faithful’ with no classroom furniture, one teacher’s aide and next to no stationery. The three ‘Rs’ - reading, writing and ‘rithmetic - were the central feature of the curriculum.
Education in Australia has fortunately progressed. The days of focussing solely on academics and their measurement in modern education are fast dissipating in an effort to generate effective, adaptable, resilient life-long learners, not individuals skilled for one employment task. ‘Soft skills’ such as application to real-world situations, problem-solving, critical-thinking, perspective building and teamwork are the new norm. Put succinctly, schools are educating for who the student wants to be, not for what job the student wants to do.
But our students face significant challenges, and it is important to note that one in seven young people aged from four to 17 experience a mental health condition in any given year. 13.9% of Australian children and young people met the criteria for a diagnosis of a mental disorder in the last twelve months. In the US, nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of eighteen, with a higher proportion being female.
Mission Australia 2018 Youth Survey Report indicates what issues are of personal concern to young people. Respondents were asked to rate how concerned they were about a number of issues. Here are some of the top answers:
- Coping with stress was the top issue of concern, with 43.6% of respondents from the ACT indicating that they were either extremely concerned (21.5%) or very concerned (22.1%) about this issue.
- Mental health was also a highly rated issue of concern for 36.1% of ACT respondents (extremely concerned: 19.1%; very concerned: 17.0%).
- School or study problems were a major concern for 33.7% of young people from the ACT (extremely concerned: 14.7%; very concerned: 19.0%).
- One third (33.3%) of young people from the ACT were either extremely concerned (13.8%) or very concerned (19.5%) about body image.
Poor mental health inhibits learning. So while building soft skills in contemporary educational practice, we must also be building skills based on evidence-based research to help prevent and lessen the severity of mental health disorders in young people. Our focus, after all, is on the whole child - even the brightest student cannot learn if they are experiencing mental ill health.
Modern educational institutions are a reflection of the societies in which they operate. Fortunately, CGGS considers the pastoral needs of its charges through proactive interventions designed to benefit the individual and therefore the collective. Ultimately, good mental health is at the foundation of all learning.
Acting Director of Pastoral Care
Photo at top: Waverley Tutor Mrs Stephanie Spiller and Year 10 student Ashleigh Burns practicing mindfulness during Tutor Group.
 Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven De Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J, Zubrick SR. (2015). The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health.
 Merikangas K et al (2011) Lifetime Prevalence of Mental Disorders in US Adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946114/
 Carlisle, E et al 2018, Youth Survey Report 2018, Mission Australia.