- The outbreak of Covid-19 has impacted on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing in multiple and unique ways. Many children have reported that they have felt lonelier and more worried about the future and have increased mental health difficulties. For some pupils, lockdown will have brought significant trauma, for example if they have experienced bereavement or abuse and neglect. The mental health and wellbeing of Black children, young people in poverty and those with pre-existing mental health conditions may have been particularly affected. Other children may have flourished at home and feel anxious to go back to school. Whatever a pupil’s experience has been during this period, schools have a huge role to play in supporting every child’s wellbeing, resilience, and re-engagement with learning.
- Creating a safe and reassuring environment will be the starting point for many schools to support wellbeing. Please see our advice on health and safety and the wider re-opening here. Clear communication with pupils and their families on what new rules are in place to keep everyone safe will help reassure those who are concerned about Covid-19 and help pupils settle into new routines. Engaging with pupils on what would make them feel happy and safe (pupil voice) can also be a useful way to build pupil agency, trust and a sense of belonging as well as identify those pupils who may struggle with changes to routines and/or who feel particularly anxious.
- Children will understandably still have questions about the coronavirus and about people they know who are vulnerable. Schools can reduce anxieties by continuing to provide factual information about the virus and encouraging children to take steps to stay safe. Providing information about progress made around coronavirus (positive news) will reassure and give hope to children. Place2be, Young Minds and the Anna Freud Foundation provide resources on how to talk to children and young people about the coronavirus as well as other resources to support healthy transitions back to school. View the NEU’s practical summary for supporting children and young people who have experienced bereavement or visit Winston’s Wish.
- This is not education as normal. We believe that schools should be given the flexibility to allow pupils time to reconnect with peers, explore difficult feelings and emotions and process what they have experienced during lockdown. Physical activity and outdoor learning should be encouraged as much as possible to support physical and mental health. Play based learning will be particularly important for younger children but supporting pupils to be creative through subjects such as art and music will be vital to support socio-emotional wellbeing for all. For more information about how schools can teach the social and emotional aspects of learning see our guidance here.
- Some pupils may be particularly anxious about the disruption to their learning. In secondary schools and colleges, pupils due to take GSCEs or A Levels this academic year may feel worried about how they will be fairly assessed. In January, the Government announced that exams will not be able to go ahead as normal and that alternative arrangements will be made. The NEU will continue to advocate for the fair deal for students. We believe that teachers must be given the time and training to focus on assessing gaps in pupils’ learning, supporting students to consolidate what they have learned and setting expectations for pupil progress that are realistic and fair for young people and which do not undermine welfare and wellbeing.
- The impact of Covid-19 and lockdown may result in more children exhibiting behavioural difficulties on their return to school. Behaviour policies should be reviewed to be trauma-informed in addition to changes made to reflect new school rules and routines. A trauma-informed approach should recognise that changes to a child’s behaviour (i.e. becoming more withdrawn or aggressive) can be an indication of underlying issues including poor mental health and distress and should be responded to appropriately. Fixed term or permanent exclusions in the recovery period should be used as a very last resort.
- Where a child’s behaviour gives rise to child protection concerns, schools should follow usual processes. The NSPCC and others warn that lockdown has likely exacerbated some risks to children including domestic abuse, online grooming, and recruitment into criminal exploitation or child sexual exploitation. Schools should be aware that there may be an increase in child protection concerns as schools reopen more widely. Schools may want to consider how subjects such as relationships and sex education (RSE) can help to provide a safeguarding culture and facilitate disclosures.
- In-house pastoral support during this time will be vital. Children and young people should know who to go to for support if they need it whether they are at school or at home. Mental health leads, DSLs, heads of years, behaviour mentors, school counsellors, school nurses, learning mentors or SENCOs may all be key points of contact. Specialists, therapists and clinicians may be able to move more easily between schools to provide support, for example, for pupils with SEND, so long as the necessary risk assessments are in place. DfE guidance recommends that schools should continue to engage with school nursing services and the support they can offer in school and remotely.
- As lockdown eases, schools should ensure they have up to date information about what external specialist support services are available, including the availability of face to face provision. We recommend that schools should work with their local authority to ensure they can signpost to the range of local mental health services available, including new services available as a response to Covid-19. Schools can also signpost to national helplines that support both child and adult mental health. We have put together a list of helplines for families and children and young people here. All NHS mental health trusts have been asked to provide 24/7 open access telephone lines to support people of all ages.
- Staff should feel confident and equipped to respond to increased trauma. Additional training may be needed so that the whole school can be supportive of pupils, help them recover and build resilience. The NEU provides training and CPD to support pupil and staff mental health and wellbeing here. Place2Be, the Anna Freud Centre and Young Minds also provide training that may be useful. In September 2020, the Government launched the Wellbeing for Education Return programme. The programme includes national training materials and funding for local authorities to identify local experts who can tailor and use these materials to train school and further education staff on mental health and wellbeing. Short, pre-recorded webinars on strengthening resilience to the mental health impacts of Covid-19 – ‘every interaction matters’ - and staff wellbeing are also available online. We recommend liaising with your local authority to find out more about how your school or college can benefit from the scheme. Further information on wellbeing for education return and other resources for school staff are available here.
- Staff wellbeing must be a key consideration in this period of uncertainty and pressure for all. Staff wellbeing and student wellbeing are inevitably interlinked. Ensuring the workplace is safe and that workload is management will be key to supporting staff wellbeing. The Education Support Partnership supports the mental health and wellbeing of education staff in schools, colleges and universities. School leaders may be able to access online peer support and telephone supervision to manage the pressures caused by Covid-19. Our full advice to support staff wellbeing can be found here.
Resources to support pupil mental health and wellbeing
(also see related content below)
Other resources and websites
Schools’ Wellbeing Partnership
Mentally Healthy Schools
Guidance on Education Settings Supporting Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Emotional wellbeing Needs
British psychological society (and guidance on compassionate transitions; emotional regulation and using psychological perspectives to support re-engagement and recovery. )