Preparing young people for the tests of life and not a life of tests

Story by Adam Johnston, Heolddu Deputy Head teacher

When your Head of Sixth Form comes to you and says “Amy and Tom have been a lifeline throughout this time…” I think that sentence alone highlights just how invaluable the Upstream team have been to Heolddu Comprehensive School since they joined us last year.


Personally, I can’t speak highly enough of the support both Amy and Tom have provided to our students, myself and my peers. The students talk just as highly of them as I do because they’ve made a real difference to people’s lives.

Historically as a school we’ve struggled to access certain services due to missing thresholds. For example, some mental health services often classify a student as ‘not high enough need’ because their challenges aren’t perceived to meet the criteria for support, which can be frustrating to hear when you know how tough things are for some students.

Having the additional support available from Amy and Tom has meant those students who may otherwise fall through the gaps of the system can still benefit from support, meaning their voices are heard and they receive the right support to help balance their emotional and mental wellbeing. 

In some cases, it’s not always appropriate for us as a school to intervene and offer mediation to students and their families, and we wouldn’t have the same level of specialism to offer, which is another reason why working with Amy and Tom has been so integral, especially during this time where families have really struggled under the pressure of the pandemic. Amy and Tom have been able to connect with our students and their families and work with them to uncover their challenges, open lines of communication between them and overall just support them to work through their differences.

I know Amy is currently supporting one of our students who’s had a difficult time at home. The student’s environment was very toxic due to substance misuse from both parents so it became unsafe for the student to remain living with them. Amy is supporting him both mentally and emotionally but is also looking at new housing options for him so he can feel supported into adulthood. It is dedicated guidance and support like this that we struggle to commit to as a school but is so important for our students to ensure they reach their potential.

Due to the new regulations set out by Covid, we’re running shorter school days and not offering school dinners like we used to. These changes to our daily structure have resulted in our pastoral team having limited contact time with students where they’re able to identify indicators of deprivation, which are things like a lack of school uniform, resources like pens and pencils or packed lunches. Although we understand we cannot resolve every challenge a student has, knowing we have Amy and Tom as an additional support has helped us immensely.

I am definitely looking forward to being able to get back to the original plan that Upstream presented to us and issue the wellbeing survey to our students. We know it’s likely there are a hidden group of students that may be experiencing challenges we don’t know about, either at home or in their community, so hopefully the survey will shine a light on those students, so alongside Amy and Tom we can intervene now and offer them the support they need.

On behalf of our students and the pastoral team at Heolddu, I cannot thank Amy and Tom enough for supporting us the way they have and adapting their services to make sure we had more support available to our students and their families during a very difficult time. I can’t imagine the Upstream team added ‘closure of all schools in Wales due to world pandemic’ to the list of challenges they had to overcome but based on what I’ve seen, you’d never believe they didn’t cater for such an event.


Stories you may like…

Standing by was never an option    |    Learning never stops, even in lockdown.    |    Interview with Peter Mackie and Sam Austin


Share this article

Back to all articles