Family & Education

Jewish Leadership Council to recruit wellbeing practitioners for five Jewish schools

Pilot project aims to improve mental health among young people


The Jewish Leadership Council has launched a scheme to improve mental health in schools.

Wellbeing practitioners are being recruited in five Jewish schools in London and Manchester in a three-year pilot project.

It will be trialled in three secondary schools — JFS, JCoSS and Yavneh College in London, and two primaries, Rimon in London, and Broughton Jewish Cassel Fox in Salford.

According to a government green paper on mental health among young people published last year, one in 10 of children from five to 16 has a diagnosable mental health condition. Half of mental health conditions begin before the age of 14.

Rachel Fink, headteacher of JFS, said the project “reflects the importance we place on mental health and wellbeing across the community”.

The scheme will be clinically supervised by Mark Berelowitz, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Royal Free Hospital, and monitored by the Anna Freud Centre.

It results from collaboration between the JLC’s education division, Partnerships for Jewish Schools and and youth network, Reshet, and other community organisations including Norwood, Jami and Camp Simcha.

Jonathan Goldstein, JLC chairman, said it represented the JLC “at its best  — bringing together the very finest of our community and working collaboratively to identify and implement solutions to address the long-term problems we face.”

Mrs Fink said the Jewish community was “a little bit ahead of the game” in implementing some of the ideas in the Green Paper.

JFS’s wellbeing practitioner will start in January and while the school has long had counsellors, the new role will “focus on the pre-emptive, educational aspects of wellbeing,” she explained.

A survey of more than 30 Jewish primary and secondary schools by Pajes last year reported most had experienced an increase in mental health issues, ranging from eating disorders and self-harm to anxiety or depression.

Mrs Fink suggested the subject is now more talked about — “and the flip side of speaking more about mental health is that you hear more and know more. 
“Previously, it might have been dealt with much more by families privately, if dealt with at all.”

A keyword is “resilience” — so that children learn how to face setbacks and challenges rather than buckle under pressure. 

One of the programmes at JFS will be based on the “Perma” model, the positive psychology of the American psychologist Martin Seligman.

Sara Keen, Rimon’s headteacher, who is in the process of recruiting a wellbeing practitioner, said they will address such issues as anxiety, self-esteem, exam stress and “very importantly, the transition from primary to secondary school and children’s actual and perceived concerns”.

The school has “always been interested in wellbeing” and every academic year starts with half a term of “growth mindset” training. 

Where a “fixed mindset” can lead to a child feeling they can’t cope with a problem, a “growth mindset” instils the confidence to look for a solution. 

It helps them to identify “their achievements, their strengths, what they can do to help others and how others can help them, how they are growing and progressing”. And it also teaches them the value of learning from mistakes.

The wellbeing practitioner will help “further and develop and embed that culture in the school,” Ms Keen said.

The JLC’s wellbeing taskforce is chaired by Nicola Cobbold, former chief executive of the Portland Trust, and managed by Julia Alberga, who launched Ort UK’s Jump mentoring scheme for Jewish schools.

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