MORE than 1,200 people have now signed a petition urging Sir John Deane’s Sixth Form College to prioritise students’ mental health rather than their grades.

Year 13 student Niall Hignett started the online petition last Tuesday following a post on Facebook which attracted attention from dozens of users who voiced their concerns about wellbeing.

The 18-year-old has since met with the college’s head of the pastoral support team to discuss the petition, and says that the two parties were 'unable to reach agreement over many issues'.

He said: “Students at Sir John Deane’s should be able to speak freely on any issues at the college, particularly in alerting pastoral staff to any problems they may face, mentally or academically.

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“It is with that in mind that I urge students to express their concerns, so we can move towards a more transparent and open environment within Sir John Deane’s.

“I would urge the college to reconsider all the points raised, and encourage those who agree to speak up, without fear of repercussion.”

Niall claims both parties agreed that students should be able to speak freely about their concerns and that Sir John Deane's staff are 'hardworking, caring and compassionate' – and are not the target of the petition.

But Niall says both parties disagreed on the college environment, which he believes to be about grades 'at any cost'.

However, one year 13 student wrote to the Guardian this week in defence of the college.

Eva Lemmy believes the image of Sir John Deane’s given in the petition, as reported by the Guardian last week, is an ‘unfair portrayal’ of the college.

In particular, she says the college employs two counsellors, and there is a team of people dedicated to student support.

Eva said: “Of course, being an academic institution, educational attainment is important and the college has always pushed its students to achieve the best grades they can.

"Its academic prestige is the main reason many apply.

“However, the suggestion that they do not value student wellbeing is upsetting and shows how naive some people can be to the incredible amount of work the senior leadership team put in.

“Many students at college feel as though their home and support system is being attacked and they are voiceless to defend it.”

At the time of writing, 1,234 people had signed the petition.

Dozens of comments from current students, parents and former pupils have also been written echoing the concerns about mental health in the college.

Sir John Deane's says the 'health and wellbeing of all our students is of the utmost importance to everyone' at the college – with a number of resources including weekly tutorials from a dedicated pastoral support team.

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