EduPod is an online platform created by Dr Asha Patel (CEO & Clinical Psychologist) and the team at Innovating Minds. It will help mental health leads to plan, manage and evaluate their journey to creating happy and mentally healthy environments for the whole school community. Here we see what it has to offer Orchard Hill College & Academy Trust (OHC&AT).
OHC&AT is a family of specialist education providers from pre-school through to further education across London, Surrey, Sussex and Berkshire and fully represents all designations of special education needs and disabilities (SEND). With15 special schools and six college centres across London, Surrey, Sussex and Berkshire, each setting has very varied environments that reflect and respond to the needs of the pupils and students at that time. OHC&AT have purchased EduPod as a part of the core safeguarding offer for their schools and college. This in itself is innovative.
'We are not looking to clone provision from one academy to another,' said Laurie Cornwell Deputy CEO of OHC&AT. 'Each setting is different. Nevertheless, we needed something that would help us analyse and share the message of what we do and how we get impact. EduPod enables us to do this'
EduPod contains a self-assessment tool that lets schools audit their provision, gather key statistics and evidence, create action plans and measure impact. The results dashboard has easy to read graphs so staff can see at a glance whether different interventions are bringing results.
There is also a library of hundreds of professional, practical resources that centres can share with staff. These have been written by professionals so schools and other settings can be confident that they have expert, up to the minute advice.
Staff at OHC&AT understand that behaviour is a form of communication. Some visitors expect pupils and students to have obvious and severe disabilities, where these are not apparent they can fail to take into account mental health needs or indeed where disabilities are visibly obvious, fail to realise that providing for positive mental health is just as important.
The key advantage for OHC&AT is that EduPod is not just a reflection of the perspectives of senior leaders. It brings together the views of young people, parents, carers and governors through pre-generated surveys.
Mental health has been a buzzword for the last few years, but it has also been a stumbling block: 'People want to do the right thing but they are scared of getting it wrong’ said Laurie.
Jackie Van-West, OHC&AT’s Director of Safeguarding, Wellbeing and Learning Support likes the fact that EduPod focuses on mental health. ‘So often when pupils and students have complex learning disabilities, people see it is one condition, rather than addressing their needs holistically’.
EduPod provides the tools to support the school to create a whole school approach to mental health. It enables staff, pupils and students to access early interventions and support for the emotional and mental health. Reflective practice is part of the whole school approach to mental health and can help pupils, students and staff to reflect and develop their psychological mindedness. A skill that will support young people to develop their ability to engage in perspective taking and emotional regulation.
A student was struggling with lockdown and asked to meet up with staff. He explained that he was not happy, was feeling depressed and didn't know what to do with himself. Staff pointed out that he had made good progress as a year earlier he coped with his difficulties through behaviours of concern. It was a clear and incontestable measure to show how far he had come.
Staff also struggle with their emotional wellbeing and this is recognised by the leadership team. The staff have access to an occupational health practitioner, support from different areas of OHC&AT, and staff come together to learn from each other using the principles from reflective practice and solution focused approaches.
OHC&AT are using their safeguarding and well-being forum to bring together the academy’s strategy relating to safeguarding and mental health. EduPod will support the team to monitor and review the strategy by using the data collected from the self-assessment audit tool and surveys.
While Mental Health First Aid courses are a good first step they will only provide tools to initiate conversations and information about how and when to refer children to more specialist services.
EduPod takes training to the next level with a framework, clear evidence and access to research and resources to move teams forward. It is helping OHC&AT’s schools and college to go forward and develop a sustainable strategy that will support future generations. It is evident OHC&AT are investing in mental health and are not interested in paying lip-service.
'Schools are notorious for generating data,' said Laurie, 'but in the past we have had anecdotal evidence and not enough meaningful numbers. Now we are able to drill down to quantitative data. EduPod is just the beginning of the journey but at last we have data we can do something with.'