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Education award

06 June 2014

by Christine Miles

Winners: the Revd John Wood with some of the St Ann's team, and David Lammy MP

Winners: the Revd John Wood with some of the St Ann's team, and David Lammy MP

AN ANGLICAN church has won recognition for its education projects. St Ann's, Tottenham, in north London, won the Community Organisation category in Haringey's Outstanding for All awards.

The award recognises the church's early-intervention counselling project, which started in 2003 after problems experienced in the church school.

The Vicar, the Revd John Wood, says: "We had a very serious case of a child setting fire to toilets who was clearly disturbed. There was a crisis case-conference called, and what became clear was that there was absolutely no counselling provision available for him.

"Even the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services had a waiting time of a year-and-a-half. And there was no provision by the local education authority - and there still isn't now. The head teacher and I agreed this was a scandal."

In response, funding was secured from the Church Urban Fund, the Tudor Trust, and the local authority to start a small-scale conselling project offering five Tottenham schools a counsellor one day a week. "There was a very, very quick uptake because the needs were so great," Mr Wood says.

Currently, the Fowler Newsam Hall Counselling Project works in 26 primary schools, one secondary school, and one children's centre in the borough, and employs three clinical supervisors to oversee 20 trained counsellors. The project is now fully funded by schools, each of whom pays £3100 per term.

One strength of the project is its focus on early intervention. "The earlier you can intervene with children who are presenting emotional, behavioural, and psychological problems, the greater chance you have of sorting those problems out," Mr Wood says. "Later down the road they become more entrenched, more expensive to deal with, and more problematic.

"Because we've got someone on site - say, you've got a child whose parent dies, and they suddenly get very traumatised - we're almost always able to offer a session within a week; no one else can do that."

Providing an in-school service is also helping to reduce any stigma. "There is a bit of stigma in the initial uptake for parents, in admitting that their kids need counselling, but once it's established, there is no stigma because, increasingly, the counsellor is just seen as a member of staff," Mr Wood says.

"Our referral take-up is about 94 per cent, whereas with external referrals the take-up is often less than 50 per cent, because parents just never get around to taking their kids, or don't want to take their kids because it's too stigmatising.

"In the Tottenham area, mental illness is far more highly stigmatised among certain ethnic-minority groups than it is even among the indigenous community."

"We provide short-term practical intervention in giving immediate support and coping mechanisms," says the project manager of the counselling project, Jemima Douglas. "Hopefully, it doesn't have to go further, but if they need to be referred on, we hold them until that point." Where counselling is believed to be appropriate, usually one term of weekly sessions is offered.

"Our counsellors are dealing with lack of self-confidence, bullying, anxiety, bereavement, chaotic lives, aggressive behaviour, changes in family structure, domestic violence, threats of self-harm, threats of exclusion from school, peer difficulties, and sexualised behaviour, among others.

"The ultimate goal is not to fix the problem, but give them tools of how to cope. If the problems are fixed, then that's great, but it's often about how do you control your anxiety, or how to cope with the bereavement of a close family member, for instance. If they are able to cope more with these things, they are able to focus more in class; it gives them better chances in their emotional and mental life as well as with their education."

The award also commended the annual South Tottenham Schools Festival, run by St Ann's. The festival has taken place in the church over a week, every summer term since 2000, after a request by a head teacher in the area.

About 15 schools, and up to 2400 students participate in its strongest years.

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