Caring about the wellbeing of pupils, families and staff needs to be the primary focus. Schools and colleges are social institutions which play a role at the heart of their community. The Government has highlighted particular groups of children as ‘vulnerable’, but many children may face abuse, isolation, friendship troubles, poor mental health, hunger, bullying and exploitation during this unusual term. For NEU guidance on vulnerable children, see here.
Physical health and wellbeing
Many families will face increased financial and social challenges during this time. Ensuring families have access to support, including free school meals, food banks, and other services, is critical to meeting basic needs. It is as important to provide families with links and encourage them to do physical activities as it is to set academic work.
Mental and emotional wellbeing
This is a stressful time for many, with bereavement, chaos, social issues, loss of familiar routines, isolation and other issues impacting on pupil mental health and wellbeing. Supporting the development of reassuring environments, providing learning resources on COVID-19, mental health and general wellbeing, and supporting those conversations to happen within families, are central aspects of education at the moment. For more on supporting pupils’ mental health, see here.
The emotional health and wellbeing of education staff must be protected for them to support families. School leaders and mental health leads should work with unions and staff to develop plans to protect staff health and wellbeing, and to work out what it is realistic for staff to juggle. These plans should include regular breaks, flexible working for those with caring responsibilities and regular signposting to counselling and mental health services. All vulnerable staff and pregnant women must work from home.
All pupils need contact and support through this time, and this should be tailored as far as possible to what they need. Schools know that children approaching key transitions will need specific messages of reassurance and emotional support. The support offered to children with a social worker, to children with special educational needs and to other vulnerable children, should be co-ordinated and agreed with the child, their parents/carers and the local authority where appropriate. For more on external support services, see here.
Helpful practice for supporting children and young people who have experienced bereavement
Read this research summary, from the NEU series called Research to Reflect On. This summary explains the differences between bereavement, grief and mourning. It explores how bereaved children and adults experience 'loss-orientated' behaviours and 'restoration -orientated' behaviours. It explains the research which shows us how we can help children with their feelings and behaviours when they experience bereavement. This will also help you in relation to young people experiencing other losses.
How the use of play can support children's social and emotional wellbeing
Read this research summary, from the NEU series called Research to Reflect on. This summary gives an easy to read overview of the research about why play is beneficial at times of crisis or adversity. Play can help children and young people manage feelings of stress, anxiety and trauma.