Pupils’ mental health and wellbeing a ‘pressing concern’

Pupils’ wellbeing and mental health is an immediate and pressing concern for school leaders in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic. That’s among the findings of a new report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The report, Recovery during a pandemic: the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on schools serving deprived communities, is based on interviews with 50 senior leaders in mainstream schools largely serving deprived communities. It focused on schools’ responses to Covid-19 in May/June 2021.

Most leaders reported a deterioration in pupils’ wellbeing, especially increased anxiety, as a result of the pandemic. Primary pupils were reported to be struggling with social skills, confidence and self-esteem. A substantial minority – mainly, but not exclusively, secondary leaders – noted an increase in severe mental health issues, including self-harm. Schools were finding it difficult to secure specialist external support, and leaders called for early intervention and a multi-agency approach to mitigate an escalation in poor mental health and learning incapacity, to support families, and to minimise staff workload and stress. Leaders also expressed concern about the readiness of pupils for transition, in particular those children moving in to Nursery, Reception and Year 1 in 2021/22. There were also concerns about those moving from primary to secondary school. For pupils in Years 11-13, leaders’ concerns focused on their academic readiness to move to the next stage.

The NFER researchers also found that schools were adapting their curriculum and pedagogy to help pupils recover. Most leaders said that their schools had modified the curriculum to help pupils recover and make progress with their learning. The research identified four models: narrow (prioritising literacy and numeracy over other subjects such as arts and languages); focused (prioritising core content within subjects); blended (supporting numeracy and literacy through other subjects); and continuous (covering planned content over a longer period of time). Those adopting the narrow model reported they had done so because of the perceived pressure of external accountability, and tended to regret that their pupils and staff were missing out on wider experiences.

The leaders surveyed for the report wanted the government to provide sufficient and sustained funding for recovery and to allow schools to use it flexibly, according to their needs. In particular, they wanted to increase staffing to support pupils’ wellbeing, engagement, transitions and academic recovery. They called on the government to take a more holistic and system-wide perspective of recovery in future.

Commenting on the findings Caroline Sharp, Research Director at NFER, and co-author of the report said: ‘Our report shows the continuing impact of the pandemic on mainstream schools serving deprived communities, and its adverse effect on pupils’ wellbeing, learning and transition across all age groups. Schools are doing all they can to support their pupils, whose education and welfare has been so severely disrupted by Covid-19. Most are modifying the curriculum to help pupils recover missed learning, and simultaneously make progress. More research is needed to understand the implications of the various curriculum modification models identified in this research.’

Also commenting on the report Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, saidThis report contains some very useful pointers to the government on bolstering its education recovery plans in the spending review that is due to take place this autumn. The investment it has announced to date simply does not go far enough. Of particular concern is the finding that most school leaders reported more pupil wellbeing and mental health problems than usual and that a substantial minority noted an increase in severe mental health issues, including self-harm.’

Full report: https://tinyurl.com/3rkr5kj7

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