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- The outbreak of Covid-19 has impacted on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing in multiple 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 lockdown, 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 for September 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 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 (see below). 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 in the next academic year to allow pupils time to reconnect with peers; explore difficult feelings and emotions and process what they have experienced during lockdown. Where possible, physical activity and outdoor learning should be increased 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 or missed time to prepare for transitions. Year 6 students will not have had chance to say goodbye to school staff or friends and will have missed out on preparations to get them ready for secondary school. 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. The NEU has called for a long-term review of assessment methods given how grades were awarded in 2020. We believe that teachers must be given the freedom 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 as well as 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 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 in September. Schools may want to consider how subjects such as Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) can help to create a safeguarding culture and facilitate disclosures.
- Inhouse pastoral support will continue to be vital. Children and young people should know who to go to get more support if they need it. Mental Health leads, DSLs, heads of years, behaviour mentors, school counsellors, school nurses, learning mentors or SENCOs may all be key points of contact. Some pupils may not be able to return in September and schools should consider how they can build on/ learn from the remote pastoral support that was available during the summer term. We advise that work phones or online calling facilities like Call Hub must be provided to support wellbeing calls.
- 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 work with their local authority to ensure they can signpost to the range of local mental health services available, including new services set up. For example, the See, Hear, Respond service and the support this offers for children and young people. 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.
- Staff should feel confident and equipped to respond to increased trauma. Additional training may be needed so that the whole school can support 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 August 2020 , the Government announced a Wellbeing for Education Return Grant. Part of this funding will be to train nominated staff in schools and colleges on how to support students mental health. We recommend liaising with your local authority to find out more about how your school can benefit from the scheme.
- 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 manageable 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
Other resources and websites