Prioritising the well-being and welfare of staff and students really matters as we plan and reflect on learning during coronavirus.
Caring about the wellbeing of pupils, families and staff needs to be a priority for schools over next academic year. 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 have faced abuse, isolation, friendship troubles, poor mental health, hunger, bullying and exploitation during lockdown. For some children and young people, the transition back to school may also be a very challenging period that brings new anxieties and fears 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 support services, is critical to meeting basic needs. It is important to provide families with sources of helpful advice these links and encourage them to engage in physical activities.
Where children are in school, try and increase safe outdoor activities that help children move around and reconnect with the physical environment again.
Mental and emotional wellbeing
Lockdown has been a stressful time for many, with bereavement, social issues, loss of familiar routines, isolation and other issues impacting on pupil mental health and wellbeing.
Supporting the development of reassuring environments, providing factual and myth busting learning resources on Covid-19, mental health and general wellbeing, and supporting those conversations to happen within families and at school, are central aspects of education. For more on supporting pupils’ mental health, see here.
The emotional health and wellbeing of staff must be prioritised if they are to be able 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 schools should carry out individual risk assessments to keep vulnerable and higher risk individuals safe, including pregnant women, older, disabled and Black staff. Vulnerable staff must have an individual assessment to work out what adjustments might be needed. See our guidance here on staff at greater risk.
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.
There may be elevated anxiety for particular groups. For example it is more likely that Black children and young people have experienced substantial loss and illness, because of the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on Black communities. They are also disproportionately in lower income groups meaning that they will also experience the effects of poverty during the pandemic – such as lack of access to computers or tablets and greater food insecurity.
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.