Children will have experienced a variety of different challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, some will have been bereaved; faced challenging or abusive circumstances at home; been victim to online abuse; been affected by family members losing their jobs; and some mental health issues have been exacerbated. Such challenges may become particularly evident upon return to school.
In contrast, but importantly, some children will have found that being away from school relieved certain anxieties or pressure / bullying from peers, and a return to school will be challenging for them.
These challenges may lead to an increase in social, emotional and mental health concerns and some children, particularly vulnerable groups (such as children with a social worker and young carers), may need additional support and access to services such as educational psychologists, social workers, and counsellors.
Schools should therefore be aware of potential support needs generally, and in particular, consider the support needs of those they are already aware need additional help, and any pupils identified as newly vulnerable on their return to school. To support this, teachers may wish to access the free MindEd learning platform for professionals, which includes a coronavirus (COVID-19) staff resilience hub with materials on peer support, stress, fear and trauma and bereavement.
The DfE reopening guidance notes that schools should consider the provision of pastoral and extra-curricular activities to all pupils, designed to:
- Support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement
- Address and equip all pupils to respond to issues linked to coronavirus
- Support pupils with approaches to improving their physical and mental wellbeing
Support for such pupils should include existing provision in the school (although this may be delivered, for example over the phone, for any children receiving remote provision of education provided this has been approved by the senior leadership team – see below) or from specialist staff or support services.
The DfE reopening guidance acknowledges that schools are a vital point of contact for safeguarding services which are critical to the wellbeing of children and families. These referral and liaison mechanisms should continue to be considered in any case where it is felt this would support the wellbeing of a pupil.
In addition to schools’ usual liaison with safeguarding agencies, which should continue, any adult or child may also benefit from the NSPCC Helpline. In April 2020, the government announced a £1.6million investment of funding for the NSPCC Helpline to help people report concerns about vulnerable children.