London Academy of Excellence, in Tottenham, in one of the poorest wards in the country, has introduced counselling for students, some of whom juggle care responsibilities with school work, and bear the weight of parents’ expectations to become doctors and engineers.
The academically selective sixth form takes students from five state secondary schools in Tottenham. More than half of its pupils qualify for free school meals, yet more than two thirds of Year 13s will go on to study at Oxford, Cambridge and top Russell Group universities.
Headteacher Jan Balon said he is determined that the school’s commitment to academic rigour does not come at the cost of students’ mental health.
He said: “Our students have been among the highest achieving in their secondary schools, and the most ambitious.
“But they may not be particularly confident in their abilities. Suddenly they come into an environment where everybody is high-performing and imposter syndrome is something we find a lot.”
He added: “Students who are the first to go to university or the oldest in their family feel they have to do really well to set an example to younger siblings.”
Mr Balon said many of his students juggle their A-levels with caring responsibilities, which can include looking after unwell parents, taking younger siblings to school, translation and helping their families with housekeeping.
Every new student has a meeting with the school’s counselling team, and can be referred to the counselling service for one-to-one support.
This service is paid for by Tottenham Hotspur FC, which this year raised more than £30,000 for the school.
The school is also working on building the self-esteem of pupils, wanting them to believe they will improve traditional universities or professions by being themselves.
Mr Balon said: “It’s about saying to these young people that not only do you belong here but you are going to improve these places.”