Mental health must be at the heart of UK schools post-lockdown say campaigners

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MENTAL health must be central to the UK’s education system when schools reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown put at the heart of the education system once schools reopen, children’s charity Barnardo’s has argued.

The UK’s largest children’s charity says that the government could miss “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” if it does not allow schools to address the emotional impact of the pandemic on children.

According to Barnardo’s COVID-19 has exposed the country’s children and young people to an unprecedented level of trauma, loss and adversity. 

Some children, who were already extremely vulnerable will have been badly affected. 

its report Time for a Clean Slate: Children’s Mental Health at the Heart of Education points to the fact that children and young people living in lockdown or socially isolating in challenging and unsafe home environments may have lost their ‘safe space’ at school. Some children and young people will have experienced domestic abuse, poverty or child abuse for the first time. 

CHALLENGING: School closures during the COVID-19 lockdown has left some children without the ‘safe space’ they had at school

Others will be grieving for loved ones, and says, the charity this could be especially prevalent in the BAME community which has been disproportionately affected. 

Some children will be fearful of catching the virus and others will be experiencing separation anxiety.

A survey conducted for the report found that 88% of school staff said the pandemic is likely to have an effect on the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.

And 26% said they did not feel confident they had the tools, skills or resources to support their pupils in this way.

Barnardo’s said it would also like to see the government act on the proposal by the chairman of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, to introduce a catch up pupil premium for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils.

It also supports the proposal of using at least a term as a ‘readjustment period’ where they can be flexible with the curriculum, so they can work through the emotional effects of the pandemic.

This would enable teachers to help their pupils reintegrate into the school environment, re-socialise with their friends, and change the structure of the day so there is more of a focus on pastoral care, play, creative outlets and outdoor activities.

URGENT PLEA: Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “When it comes to this pandemic, we are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.

“We know children who were already vulnerable before the crisis have been badly affected, and with families now under increasing financial and emotional pressure, more children are now living in poverty and at risk of abuse. Many more are struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, now largely hidden from the view of teachers and professionals.  

“When children return to school, there must be additional resource available to help overcome not just the ‘attainment gap’ but also the  ‘trauma gap’ faced by vulnerable pupils.  

Khan added: “The government should also take this once in a generation opportunity to rebalance the school system, recognising that children rely on school to keep them safe and well, just as much as they need it to pass exams. 

“We urge the government to work with schools, local authorities, the NHS and charities to place wellbeing at the heart of the curriculum and school culture, so that every child has the support they need to thrive.” 

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