In the third and final instalment of the NEU’s annual State of Education survey, 10,000+ school and college staff share their thoughts on the mental health of the pupils and students they teach.

  • 78% told us that mental health issues among children and young people have increased in past year, with 34% of respondents saying they had “increased greatly”.
  • 62% believe government is treating the poor mental health of young people as a low priority.
  • Political pressure to prioritise ‘catch up’ is at the expense of supporting students with mental health issues, according to 66% of respondents. This is made worse by a lack of access to support services and sufficient staff.

In advance of the National Education Union’s annual conference, held online this week, more than 10,000 teachers, leaders and support staff from across the UK and in all school and college settings have made clear their views on the State of Education and the conditions under which they work. The survey was conducted between 2-10 March 2021.

Increase since 2020

The disruption of Coronavirus and the ensuing lockdowns have affected all of society, with particular attention given to the plight of young people. For this survey we wanted to know if members had detected any change in the prevalence of mental health issues amongst their students since March 2020.

Increased greatly

34%

Increased slightly

43%

Stayed the same

9%

Decreased slightly

1%

Decreased greatly

0.5%

Don’t know

12%

It is striking how few have seen a decrease, with only 9% saying the situation is comparable with this time last year. Almost four-fifths (78%) told us that it had increased, with a third (34%) of all respondents telling us problems had “increased greatly”.

Treating good mental health as a priority

When asked “What priority do you think the following currently place on ensuring pupil/student mental good health at your setting?”, respondents told us:

What priority do you think the following currently place on ensuring pupil/student mental good health at your setting?

Low

Medium

High

Don’t Know

Government

62%

22%

7%

9%

LA / MAT / Diocese / Proprietor

26%

39%

13%

22%

Governors

17%

37%

22%

24%

The leadership team where I work

13%

38%

45%

5%

Pupils/students

10%

43%

31%

16%

Parents/ carers

8%

39%

38%

14%

Me personally

5%

26%

67%

2%

62% of respondents believe government put low priority on the good mental health of young people. There is also a clear indication that there is greater awareness and action at school/college level.

In a separate question, the results of which were published on Wednesday, we asked members to prioritise interventions that government “should make to support the recovery your pupils/students will require after missing face-to-face education.” 80% of respondents wanted to focus on recovery to address mental health and wellbeing impacts of the pandemic on their students.

Barriers to supporting students

We then asked what barriers present themselves when attempting to support the mental health of students. Of the multiple-choice list which followed, this ranking emerged:

Pressure to prioritise the ‘catch up’ of lost learning

66%

Not being able to support pupils face-to face as a result of the pandemic

65%

Workload

58%

Lack of access to external support services (e.g. CAMHS, Specialist SEND assessment, Educational Psychologists)

56%

Insufficient numbers of staff providing pastoral support and care

54%

A lack of resources

45%

Assessment system

42%

Lack of training

36%

Narrowing of the curriculum generally

34%

Not sure

3%

None of the above

1%

Respondents see a clear clash between pressures to ‘catch up’ on lost learning and the nurturing return which is most needed to ensure students are supported in their transition back to fully on-site learning. Other blockages in the system – all scoring over 50% - are high workload, access to specialist support services, and insufficient staffing.

In their many additional comments, respondents were clear about the value of pastoral support and introducing new staff specifically to support pupil/student wellbeing:

"We have an incredible pastoral care support staff member who is exceptional and there for everyone – children and staff."      

"Teaching assistants in school have supported all children and given high quality input."

Members also shared with us the working practices they have been using over the past year to support students:

“Trauma-informed approach by all staff.”   

“Regular communication via email and offering of 1:1 Zooms.”

“Random 1-2-1 check in calls. Not work focused. Just checking in.”

“Daily meetings and messages to children. Ringing at-risk or struggling children most days to check in on their mental wellbeing.”

“Having time to sit and talk to them for a reasonable length of time and without having to constantly complete assessments on them.”

Commenting on the survey results, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

"The infrastructure to support young people with poor mental health was under considerable strain before Covid, and our survey shows that the situation has worsened over the past twelve months. More research will be necessary, but the increase is all too apparent.

"We agree with the government's youth mental health ambassador, Dr Alex George, when he says that young people who have been at home during lockdown need time and patience to re-integrate with on-site learning. That is why our recovery plan has set great store on making transition the priority, to be properly resourced through additional staff and smaller classes, and by reducing the curriculum and excessive accountability to create the space for that work to be done effectively. Through this we can guarantee individual attention and identify the needs of every student.

"But it is not exclusively those who have been learning from home who will have been affected with mental health issues. The disruption to life, to play, to sport, to everyday social interaction, has been stark. The message from education staff is clear – government has got to recognise that the wellbeing of young people is just as vital as their learning, and that wellbeing impacts significantly on learning.

“Schools and colleges want to play their part, and take very seriously the wellbeing of their students, but real-terms cuts to school funding have dramatically reduced the specialist support available to them in this important work. All too often the students most in need of support cannot access it.

"Government must listen to today's message from the frontline, which is clear and unambiguous. We must all play our part in ensuring that the legacy of Covid does not become a generation of young people with poor mental health. We need solutions for the long term."

ENDS

2021-062-NEU

  1. NEU launches plan for education return and recovery, 28 January 2021

Our survey of 10,696 members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was conducted between 2-10 March 2021. The sample includes classroom teachers, support staff and leaders working in all types of schools, colleges, early years settings and elsewhere. 40% of respondents work in primary schools and 44% in secondary schools.