Brian Wakeman, educational consultant and writer
As I write this review, mental health is in the national news headlines. The British government plans to provide training for teachers to recognise mental ill-health and to know how to respond. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are sponsoring the recognition of mental health as having parity with physical health. A local correspondent for Barnardo's claimed that on average there are three children in each class that are suffering from diagnosable mental health problems (Herald and Post, January 19th 2017). The publication of this book is timely as it coincides with these national initiatives.

The book emerges from the author reflecting on life experiences and his role as a head teacher of a secondary school and his attempts to manage the rising numbers of students with mental health problems. It has 32 chapters of varying length which sounds a bit daunting, but several are very short, and the book has only 272 pages. There is also a range of depth from narrative to analysis in chapters.

There are deeply personal sections narrating incidents in the author's life, e.g. about the author's mother and her bipolar condition, and his heart disorder. These chapters might be of great interest to some readers, but may irritate or embarrass others. There are practitioner accounts that will be of interest to leadership readers, and there is home-spun wisdom. They contrast with more probing chapters and interviews with well-known writers and scholars such as Clare Fox, Natasha Devon, Ken McLaughlin, Robin Parmiter (a philosophy teacher), Professor Byron, and Tom Bennett exploring issues about mental health and education. I would have liked more engagement with the issues these interviews raise.

There are chapters that are well researched and fully referenced about mental health problems, mental illness, and the turbulence of teenage years. Possible causes of the rise in mental health problems are suggested, such as the recent increase in academic challenge; teacher anxiety about performance-related pay; funding cuts; inequality and poverty; the impact of social media; and a rise of a dubious claim to the entitlement to be happy. I did wonder whether there was sufficient detail on types of mental ill-health, and possible actions schools can take, but the reader can dip into the extensive bibliography for further analysis and solutions.

The chatty style is both attractive and accessible to the reader. I enjoyed reading single chapters at a short sitting. It was not always clear to this reviewer how all the chapters related to the book's central theme, nor how the chapters related to each other.

If readers require a more rigorous, technical volume about mental health issues in schools and solutions they may need to look elsewhere, but the practitioner experience and personal narratives will appeal to many teachers and school leaders, and be informative (e.g. chapter 19 on -˜Mindfulness -¦').

Wise readers can draw on or distil the writer's experiences (e.g. Chapter 27 -˜Who Owns the Child?', and 29 -˜Metacognitive Tools -¦'), from the author's wide reading and web of contacts (Chapter 31, -˜Turning the Tide'), and apply insights to their own understanding and practice. The author has drawn on an immense amount of personal and professional experience, reading and study to make this book available to us.
Guest | 20/01/2017 00:00
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