I know this because I have watched my daughters disintegrate at school having been caught up in the Manchester Arena attack, losing out on study and not being able to achieve as they would have liked. It wasn’t their fault, and nor was it the fault of their school: the education system just isn’t built to cope with PTSD or mass trauma.
Seeing the damage that poor wellbeing reaps on our young, I set out to find a way of bringing education and mental health services together to support the ‘whole child’. By founding a trauma charity and working in partnership with Kooth (the UK’s leading mental health provider) alongside education system leaders, I worked with colleagues at GLUU to weave mental health and wellbeing into the very fabric of learning, and equip students with a system to support self-regulation.
Of course, I didn’t realise at the time just how needed a scalable solution such as this would become post-pandemic. As we fast forward to today 74% of teachers feel that poor student mental health is holding back their teaching while the majority of students are presenting with symptoms of anxiety and stress. The need is acute and immediate but we can’t expect teachers to have the specialist skills and capacity for this on top of ever-increasing workloads and dwindling budgets.
Today, our focus at GLUU is to empower system leaders in a way which adds capacity to schools but not complexity. We recognise that students require help at point of need on both the academic and wellbeing side of things. Moreover, this needs to extend beyond the school gates. GLUU provides these additional structures that lock into a school’s existing eco-system, supporting the school leadership team, teachers, students and parents alike.
We don’t claim we can do this alone, far from it. We work in collective partnership, bringing a unique group of experts together to provide a single, joined-up solution. On the academic side, we have created an international team of qualified teachers and subject specialist tutors who can respond to the learning needs of students on-demand. On the mental health side, we work with Kooth, the UK’s oldest and most trusted online mental health community, to provide access to wellbeing support and clinical experts, including live therapy if required.
Our collaboration has created a high-dosage, ‘whole child’ support solution called askOLA.
OLAs (Online Learning Assistants) are the digital equivalent of a Teaching Assistant to support the pastoral and learning needs of youngsters. askOLA is priced to be inclusive and support year groups, key stages or even whole school settings. It is also designed to be extremely flexible with only 90 day forward commitments being sought, so no long contracts whatsoever. It’s simply about giving schools an extra pair of hands in every classroom as part of the wider teaching team.
Results from pilots with thousands of youngsters have been outstanding. We are seeing 90%+ satisfaction rates from pupils and teachers, with average monthly usage exceeding 2 hours per pupil. Sessions typically last 9 minutes meaning that students are accessing the platform around 14 times per month, with students telling us that they feel far less anxious about ‘catch-up’ in the knowledge they have an on-demand service that will support the ‘now generation’ on their terms.