PD North HQ – meet your 2019 – 2020 team!

Images (top row) Chloë Hynes, PD North’s Creative Director;  Lou Mycroft, Events Lead; Kathryn Semple, PD North Coordinator; Vicky Butterby, Creative Support Officer and Online Practitioner Research Professional Exchange Lead (bottom row) Your PD North Regional Leads: Petrina Lynn (NE & Cumbria); Gail Lydon (Y&H); Punam Khosla (NW).

At PD North HQ, we are extremely excited to be moving into year three of the programme. PD North is going from strength to strength, and our ever growing membership list is bursting with passionate practitioners from across the North (and beyond), each of whom are as excited as we are about improving teaching, learning and assessment practices for learners through practitioner-led research and knowledge exchange. With this in mind, we felt now would be an excellent time to introduce our 2019-2020 PD North team, so you know who we are and why we are so passionate about the our work for PD North and across #FE (in all its manifestations).

About Chloë – PD North’s Creative Director

Hi I’m Chloë, PD North’s Creative Director. After working on the PD North project for the past two years I’m incredibly excited to take the team into year three. Every year the project has grown following feedback from members as we aimed to make an exchange network that had practitioners from all parts of the sector at its heart.

The first year of PD North I was working ‘on the ground’ as project officer for the North West. Last year I was working behind the scenes, building our social media presence via YouTube, Twitter, our blog and the twice monthly newsletter. This year I’m looking forward to pushing the project forward by supporting our team in encouraging practitioners to make PD North their own.

About Kathryn – PD North’s Network Meeting Coordinator

Hello I’m Kathryn, and I coordinate the professional exchange network meetings for PD North. For the past 25 years, I have worked in Education and Training, either in Work Based Learning, Welfare to Work or Adult Skills and I have over 20 years Management experience in this Sector.  I currently work as an Operations Manager at a Training Provider that focuses on upskilling adults in Functional Skills English and Maths.

Initially, I was involved in setting up the Professional Exchanges in the North East and Cumbria and supported Petrina Lynn in the management of the exchange groups.  I have worked with PD North for the past 2 years supporting the Regional Leads in organising meetings, arranging CPD days and day to day correspondence with group members.

I am excited about going into Year three as I can see how much the sector has developed, shared and moved forward as a result of the exchange groups and happy that I am part of this.

About Petrina – PD North lead for the North East and Cumbria

Hello l’m Petrina and l’ve worked with the sector for more years than l care to admit to!

Staff Learning and development has been a passion of mine for most of my working life. Consequently, when the opportunity to become involved in Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) became available, l jumped at it.

PENs have been a big part of my life for the past few years, particularly focussing on the North East and Cumbria provider base.

The existing network has established seven groups across the patch based on agendas identified by practitioners. I am never ceased to be amazed at the outcomes from the groups and the productive networking that is established.

Going forward l feel a sense of enthusiasm and optimism at the prospect of working with you all again.

We will be in touch soon about year three. Anyone wishing to participate please don’t hesitate to contact us.

About Gail – PD North lead for Yorkshire and Humber

Hi I’m Gail, Regional Lead for Yorkshire and Humber. I’m looking forward to a new year for the Professional Exchanges in our region – it is going to be an exciting one.  This year my focus will be on the word network.  Although we will have fewer networks the ones we have will be bigger and be informed by what the members want and need.  The expertise in the PENs last year was amazing as was the members’ willingness to share and work together – in challenging times we need this – we need our network community.  So please get involved, I will be in touch shortly with the dates of the first meetings.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me with your ideas.  See you there!

Our Gail has also recently been awarded Chartered Teacher Status: To find out more about qualifying as an Advanced Practitioner in #FE, please click here.

About Punam – PD North lead for the North West

Hi I’m Punam, Regional Lead in the North West for the PD North Professional Exchange Network. A core part of my role at PD North involves developing networks and organising regional events. I am passionate about delivering excellence and I combine an engaging enthusiasm with an attention to detail which enables the organisations I support to feel safe enough to innovate for excellence in a risk-positive way.

Having held many roles working within FE,  ranging from practitioner to senior manager working locally, regionally and nationally, I appreciate the challenges in terms of strategic planning for an ever-changing policy landscape, which compels senior managers to respond in a responsive manner, realigning organisational priorities and strategies accordingly. This professional history, together with a grounding in culture-changing Thinking Environment processes, allows me to support providers with understanding and empathy at appropriate levels of challenge.

I am looking forward to year three of this exciting opportunity working with PD North members across the North West and beyond. I will be working with my PEN’s to grow the membership of the networks and add to the increasingly diverse range of organisations already involved. We will be focussing on hot topics and the key development areas for organisations. The networks will provide an opportunity to continue to share effective practice and provide support to organisations.   

About Lou – PD North’s events lead

Hello I’m Lou and I’ve been involved with PD North over the last couple of years, initially as Digital Nurse then moving into the PD North Events. That’s what’s exciting me most about Year three! The events we held in the summer at Liverpool, Durham Cricket Club and in Leeds were real highlights – educators from across the North of England getting together to share ideas and learn new stuff. Each of the days had the affirmative spirit that always happens when practitioners get together who are critical – yes, and who challenge themselves too – but who are never cynical. They were feelgood days, so I’m delighted to be doing the same again next year with the PD North team. Look out for dates from us in early September – PD North on Tour! 

PD North sits with the other work I do nationally to raise the profile of FE, particularly FE research and voices from the sector. Although my focus is pretty much the events for Year 3, I’d still be delighted to support you to get writing, podcasting and publishing the stories of your practice. You can always contact me on Twitter @loumycroft or by phone 07779135201.

About Vicky – PD North’s virtual action research group lead (and occasional creative content developer)

Hello I’m Vicky and I’ve been working in education in various guises since 2005. I’m an Access to HE specialist, as well as spending a lot of my working life in the wonderful worlds of community education and community youth justice. I hope that I’ll be meeting (and re-meeting) many PD North friends as we begin our latest online action research professional exchange series (starting September 2019). During these interactive sessions we will be blending talks and training from experienced FE action researcher-practitioners with the opportunity to explore, discuss and reflect upon your own research projects. You can often find me on Twitter – @VickyMeaby, where I get very excited about collaborative working and the power of participatory action research as an enabler of socially just teaching, learning and assessment practices.

A mental ill-health epidemic in #FE or something else entirely?

Social influences, labelling or a mental health epidemic? Understanding learner mental-ill health and its drivers is critical for us as #FE educators.
Image credit: Tim Gouw (Unsplash, 2019)

PD North member Rebecca Gillett from Myerscough College shares her fascinating research into student mental-ill health.

“A mental health epidemic is underway in Britain’s schools” (Moran 2019)

 But is there really???

At the moment it seems that we are hard pressed not to pick up a newspaper, see posts on social media or internet news pages informing us that adverse mental health is on the rise. I too seem to be coming in to contact with more students each year that identify as having adverse mental health, a belief that seems to be shared by some colleagues. Ultimately, I have the same goal that I am sure is shared by all teachers; I want to ensure that I support students that identify as having adverse mental health to reach their goals, aspirations and achieve their full potential within the educational system. However, although I am empathic towards the plight of these students I do question if there is true rise in adverse mental health? Could there be other factors contributing to this apparent epidemic?

Scouring the internet to source figures that document the prevalence of mental health disorders in Britain, it becomes apparent that differing authors use different terminology and age rages. The differences in age ranges and terminology used to quantify data can sometime make it difficult to understand the true extent of the problem for the 16-18 year old age range. The best major survey to examine trends of mental health in Britain appears to be that completed by NHS digital in 2017 and published in 2018. This survey allows data to be compared to the previous surveys completed in 1999 and 2004. However, although these surveys seemed to be the best source of data on the prevalence of mental health disorders, prior to 2017 16-18 year old were not included in the samples. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to confirm that data validates the belief that there is a rise in mental health disorders.

The NHS digital survey documents 4 categories of mental health disorders; ‘Emotional disorders’, ‘Behavioural or Conduct disorders’, ‘Hyperactivity disorders’ and ‘Other less common disorders’. Stepping away from my interest in the figures for 16-19 year olds for a moment and viewing the data on the age bracket of 5-15 year olds, it becomes apparent that ‘Emotional disorders’ are the only category that has seen a rise in prevalence for children aged 5-15. Emotional disorders have risen from 4.3% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2017, all other groups have stabilised in frequency (NHS digital 2018). Included in the category of ‘Emotional disorders’ are 3 subcategorises; Depressive Disorders, Bipolar Affective Disorder/Manic Episode and Anxiety Disorders. Anxiety disorders includes conditions such as; Separation Anxiety, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Specific Phobia, Social Phobia, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Other Anxiety Disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Vizard et al 2018). However, it cannot be assumed that the 1.5% rise in emotional mental health disorders are directly transferable to 16-19 year olds, without having previous statistics to compare the current findings with. Approximately one in eight 17-19 year olds are documented as having an anxiety disorder and approximately one in twenty 17-19 year olds are documented as having a depressive disorder (Vizard et al 2018) but is this any worse than it was in 1999 for this age group?

Society is also not was it was; could the constructs of society also be contributing to the higher reported figures of children and adolescents’ with emotional mental health disorders? It is documented by Time to Change (2019) that the Attitude to Mental Illness survey indicates a 9.6% change in the attitude of the public during 2008-2016, with an estimated 4.1 million people having improved attitudes towards mental health. By decreasing the stigma attached to adverse mental health and creating a more accepting society this must surely lead to increased public confidence in disclosure of emotional mental health disorders. Maybe this epidemic has always been there; maybe we are now just aware of its existence. Could what we are seeing in the education system not be an explosive rise of emotional mental health disorders but adolescents’ that now just feel more comfortable in vocalising their troubles?

Looking on the flip side of the coin, could it also be argued, that a change in what degree of problem consists as an emotional mental health disorder has impacted on the prevalence of these conditions? Research has documented to me the belief of some authors that some children are identifying upsetting emotions as emotional mental health disorders. The definition of adverse mental health may have altered so much over recent years that normal human emotions are now being misidentified as emotional mental health disorders. Could a moral panic around adverse mental health be happening, McKinstry (2017) suggested that ‘gas-lighting’ is beginning to occur around mental illness; society is convinced that once normal, acceptable emotions are actually a sign of physiological illness.

Worryingly, could we be making the mental health epidemic worse with our ‘love’ of labelling?  Labels can be placed with the best of intensions; increasing the likelihood of access to services and support. However, if the threshold has changed between experiencing emotional difficulties and that which requires treatment, labels then placed for emotional mental health disorders will have increased in prevalence. It is also no secret that mental health services are struggling to meet demand, leaving adolescents’ that identify as having adverse mental health without the required support. Coupling this with the self-fulfilling prophecy, the placement of labels could be impacting on the figures for adverse mental health; placing a label of adverse mental health could cause the sufferers to identify more with the symptoms. Considering this with the belief that upsetting emotions could be being misidentified from sufferers as a mental health disorders in the first place, the self-fulfilling prophecy could then occur and perpetuate the likelihood of adverse mental health.

So circling back to where I started, is a mental health epidemic really underway? Figures support that there is a rise in emotional mental health disorder, albeit for a different age bracket. However, let’s assume for a moment that this figure rise is directly transferable to the 16-19 year old age bracket, it appears that it isn’t as simple as saying- “yes emotional mental health disorders are increasing”. Societal influences, changes within definitions and labelling all could have their part to play in an increasing number of adolescents’ with emotional mental health disorders. Whatever the cause, the statistics suggest that more adolescents’ will present identifying as having adverse mental health. Ultimately I suppose that as a teacher the cause of the rise in prevalence will have no bearing on lesson delivery but does help me to put in to perspective what current headlines are screaming at me.


McKinstry, L. (2017).  Our obsession with mental illness is far from healthy, (Online), Available from: https://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/leo-mckinstry/803114/mental-health-illness-campaign-lobby-depression-obsession-leo-mckinstry. (Accessed on: 17/2/2019).

Moran, L. (2019). Layla Moran: A mental health epidemic is underway in Britain’s schools, (Online), Available from: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/education/2019/02/layla-moran-mental-health-epidemic-underway-britain-s-schools. (Accessed on: 07/04/2019).

National Health Service(NHS) digital. (2018). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 Summary of key findings. Leeds: NHS Digital.

Time to Change. (2019). Our impact, (Online), Available from: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/home/about-us/our-impact. (Accessed on: 27/09/2019).

Vizard, T., Pearce, N., Davis, J., Sadler, K., Ford, T. Goodman, A., Goodman, R. & McManus, S. (2018). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 Emotional disorders. Leeds: NHS Digital.