School gives teens a break from doom and gloom

Teenagers could be forgiven for believing that the future is, at best, greyish-black. That is the message that they often receive. But not at one Norfolk school, which is focusing on the positives with its sixth form wellbeing programme. Education correspondent STEVE DOWNES reports.

With all the pressure to produce good exam grades, get into the best university and find a great job, today's young people must feel like battery hens.

Like the poor birds, it appears as though their life is judged by the quality of the end product.

And even if they rise to those challenges, the future will simply be an obstacle course, with all manner of slippery slopes and perilous pitfalls.

That's if they believe the messages they receive from the national media and - sometimes - from the well-meaning health and social education programmes at their schools.

The 'disaster model' takes the Private Frazer approach to teenage wellbeing: 'We're all doomed'.

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Drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, unemployment, divorce, ill health, even global terror: these are the delights in store of the next generation, apparently.

With such a bleak outlook, it's a wonder that today's teenagers manage to get out of bed - let alone collectively to continue to raise the bar for GCSE and A-level results each year.

At Gresham's School in Holt, however, a blow is being struck for a positive approach to the challenges facing teenagers.

The school has introduced a wellbeing programme for its sixth formers.

It is being inaugurated this week with a lecture by Dr Nick Baylis of Cambridge University - a psychotherapist who has worked with hundreds of people, from young offenders to stressed airline pilots.

Dr Baylis's approach to the subject is less Private Frazer and more Monty Python's Life of Brian. 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'.

He will talk about the need to focus less on potential negative outcomes, and more on developing the whole person, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

The wellbeing programme has been designed by the school's head of sixth form Jeremy Quartermain.

He said: 'We have set this up in response to feedback from students. They have all heard the disaster model of education, they know the facts and figures, and have heard the warnings.

'What they want is a way to deal with the pressures of life in a more constructive and positive manner.'

He said the course would guide students towards developing the skills needed to be successful human beings, to create and sustain meaningful relationships, to find and develop what they were good at and to make positive and responsible life choices.

Headmaster Philip John said: 'Gresham's is not just a school; it is a way of life and a preparation for adulthood. This wellbeing programme encapsulates this philosophy.'

Following Dr Baylis's lecture, there will be a rolling programme of external speakers who will address issues such as morality, stress, sexual health and anxiety.

Each sixth former has been given an 'introduction to sixth form wellbeing' document.

Ben Beckett, 16, from Norwich, is in the lower sixth. He said: 'Having just been through GCSEs, my first proper exams, I realised the need to get a balance between work and play. It was a really stressful time. Hopefully this wellbeing programme will help us. It's a refreshing approach.'

Rosa Crawford, 16, from Cley, is also in the lower sixth. She said: 'There is a danger of just talking about the worst-case scenario, including drug abuse and other things. It's nice to not focus on that.

'This should help us to get the balance right.'

Mr Quartermain added: 'People who lead happy lives flourish more academically.'

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said all sixth forms in the county had a responsibility to provide care, guidance and support to their students - including careers advice, economic intelligence and personal, social and health education.

She added that it was managed locally, not from County Hall.

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