A sense of belonging drives wellbeing. It makes us feel part of something bigger, offering mutual support, dependable relationships and friendly faces. But what is “belonging”? To answer this, Dean Close pupils were interviewed as part of research for the University of Bristol’s School of Education.
Belonging, as seen by pupils, is unconditional love and support, the freedom to be imperfect, and having trusting relationships. These are the standards by which pupils gauge belonging, and what they need to feel safe and secure at school. The kind and supportive ethos at Dean Close are central to building up the confidence and trust levels within each young person, where they are happy to take risks on the stage, in the classroom and in competition, knowing that they will be cheered on by their teachers and peers.
As one big family in one secure environment, there is a strong bond that unites the school, creating that sense of belonging through shared experiences and interests, and impromptu chats about “life.” On this journey, pupils prepare for success in life by learning how to securely share who they really are, building relationships and eventually their own families, while creating precious memories.
This research is part of Dean Close’s commitment to evidence-based pastoral support and has led to new programmes to help younger pupils think about how the school builds trust in themselves and other people, and lifelong friendships. The positive experience in pupils’ mental health, gained as a result of these programmes, extends on into their adult life. A Dean Close education is not only an investment in a child’s future success, but also their long-term happiness.
Each child has a tutor and belongs to a small inclusive tutor group, led by the same member of staff for their first three years at Dean Close. Sixth Formers can choose their own tutor and have a weekly 1:1 session. This system affords Dean Close the opportunity to explore the thoughts and feelings of pupils in a safe place with an adult facilitator.
AS Tracking is a twice-yearly assessment in which pupils create an imaginary space in which different aspects of daily life are introduced. This helps the school to identify children and young people who mask their underlying problems. This is often seen amongst international pupils due to the culture in which they have been raised.
Dean Close also focuses on specific aspects of social interaction through its tutor system. Each child has a tutor, who helps them explore issues such as learning to trust others and how to form solid friendships. The school helps young people to recognise anxiety as separate from the daily stress of life as well —they are helping them self-monitor their wellbeing, equipping them to lead healthy and balanced adult lives, and promoting self-knowledge.
Dean Close’s pastoral team brings in eminent speakers to address issues which are pertinent to the feeling of wellbeing amongst young people. They also run workshops and regular assemblies where specific pastoral issues are discussed, such as stress. The issues are then discussed with tutors.
In terms of leadership, all members of the Upper Sixth have some leadership responsibility. At Dean Close, leadership skills are taught from a very young age.