As schools start to bring back more pupils in the months ahead, it is crucial to have systems in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of both your pupils and staff. Use our tool to plan the best approach for your school

 

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Most people living through this period of Covid-19 – whatever the extent of their lockdown experience – will have had their mental wellbeing affected.

 

So it is important to understand the different impacts this will have had on both your pupils and staff. Only then can you become clear about the best ways to continue to adapt your curriculum and T&L to help best support learning at this time.

 

  

Time of loss

 

A common emotion at this time is loss – loss of social interaction, loss of freedom, through to loss of loved ones in the extreme end of the emotion.

For many students – and staff – the loss of normal structure to the day can have a devastating effect on their wellbeing.

Many may also feel diminished by the loss of freedom that lockdown has imposed.

As humans, we are designed to interact with others – it is these relationships that bring joy and fulfillment to our lives. Our self-esteem – when we are young and also as adults – is so often located in our social interactions, a key aspect of our lives that has been changed at this time.

This loss of structure, freedom and social interaction can for some trigger panic attacks and a loss of self-control.

Both staff and pupils could well have lost loved ones during this period – so you will also need to have a process in place to provide the best help and support for the bereaved too.

 

 

Heightened anxiety

 

Many constants in our lives have been removed. A lot of pupils will have been experiencing silent fear, unable to properly process and deal with the new world we are living in.

This can raise anxiety levels. Anxiety can greatly affect our coping mechanisms and can adversely impact on our physical health as well as our mental wellbeing. All of this will have a negative effect on a pupil’s ability to learn.

For some, not having exams will have affected their wellbeing. They may feel deprived of their chance to have all their work rewarded. They may feel anxious about how they’re going to be graded instead and how that will affect their future. For others, it may be they feel they’ve been denied what can be seen as a rites of passage – doing their first exams and following in the footsteps of generations before them.

As well as their own anxieties, your students are also likely to have been unconsciously absorbing the anxieties of those around them too, such as parents losing work, health fears of loved ones and so on.

 

 

Handling emotions

 

We will all be going through so many emotions at this time – often the whole range just within one day. Many pupils will be struggling with this – particularly if they haven’t the skills to best manage their emotions.

Bottling up emotions will only cause us distress. They will come out eventually, often doing us more harm than if we’d addressed them straightaway.

It is important to remember that emotions are a key signal for taking care of our wellbeing. They give us indicators of what is going on for us, and with the right emotional intelligence tools we can navigate them to help us keep our mental health positive.

Giving pupils ongoing opportunities to develop their emotional intelligence should always be an important part of our curriculum. But right now, it is crucial.

So your school needs to have measures in place to help give both staff and pupils space and opportunity to share and work through difficult emotions so that they can start to feel more stable and secure again. Without this they arguably will not be ready to come back to learning – or teaching.

This involves thinking about all aspects of the return-to-school experience.

 

 

Core concerns on returning to school

 

Many students – and staff – will have concerns and anxieties about returning to school life, and not just about their safety. There will be concerns about how best to negotiate the new way in which their school is operating in terms of hygiene arrangements, movements in and around school, social distancing and so on.

Many pupils are likely to be anxious about whether they have fallen behind in their learning. Staff could well have concerns about how to safely provide face-to-face teaching, and how to ensure they are staying on top of the new ways of working to help pupils transition well to the new arrangements.

It is important to make the new school environment as welcoming as possible – to minimise anxiety some pupils will feel about the new hygiene arrangements, social distancing and so on.

It is also important that all staff are aware of the various anxieties many pupils will have about coming back to school learning. Their learning experiences during lockdown will be very varied. Some may have done very little home learning: others will have experienced a whole new approach to learning to what they have in school.

Pupils who are about to leave school may have particular concerns about their future plans – so you will need to ensure your CEIAG programme is geared up to cope with increased demand for specialist advice.

It is also crucial not to forget the new Year 7 pupils who will be joining your school from September, to ensure your transition programme helps to minimise any additional anxieties they may be having about the forthcoming move.

Some pupils will have more needs than others, particularly if they have lacked emotional support from elsewhere during this period. Others may have been particularly affected by the lack of social interaction. They may need help with the fallout of that, and also with reintegrating into the social aspect of school life. So you will need to put in place a range of measures to provide for varying needs.

There is a lot for curriculum/T&L leaders to think about to build a programme that will best help transition their pupils back into learning in school. This should be designed to minimise the stress, take away the pressures of expectations, reduce aspects of the curriculum that can cause more anxiety, and focus instead on bringing back the joy of learning. The curriculum experience as pupils return to school should be designed to boost and build up their positive mental wellbeing.

 

 

 

Planning for future

 

Some pupils are more resilient than others and will be able to adapt and recover more quickly. However for others this could be a long process. It will require a focused intervention to help restore their wellbeing and hence capacity to learn.

This tool is designed to help you plan for this. The action plan will not cover everything; equally there will be issues that you may not wish to devote time to for now. The purpose is to help you provide coherence to your thinking and planning about how to care for the wellbeing of your pupils and staff at this difficult time. You could also then use this information to give staff an overview of all that is in place for promoting positive wellbeing, both for themselves and their students – to give further reassurance about returning to wider school life. At the end, we also give you a list of useful resources to help you with your planning

The content of this tool is viewable below with a free downloadable copy of this tool for you to then print off and use.


Wellbeing action plan for wider school reopening

 

Compassionate environment

Question                                           Answer Action required By when Involving whom? Completion date
How can you create a new, comfortable and stress-minimum daily structure within your new way of running your school?
How can you factor in compassion to every aspect of your school day? eg removing normal assessment expectations, having a revised behaviour policy in place to accommodate current pressures in pupils’ lives etc
How are you communicating the new rules of operation to be as simple as possible, and consistent, to avoid confusion and reduce anxiety?
How can you create a new, comfortable and stress-minimum daily structure within your new way of running your school?

Mental health support

Question                                           Answer Action required By when Involving whom? Completion date
Do you have a safe and secure forum whereby pupils can express wider concerns and anxieties, including those that they would have absorbed from others around them?
Have you set up a tutor system for calling every pupil to find out how they are coping to ascertain what their specific wellbeing needs are at this time?
If so, have you given staff support and advice on how to best engage pupils during these phonecalls?
And have you got a system in place to analyse the findings of this to identify any common recurring issues that you can build in support for within your pastoral system?
Are all staff reassuring students that it’s normal to feel anxiety at this time – & that it’s an important emotion for us to have?
Do you have a policy for how staff can best talk to pupils about emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, loss, etc? eg emphasising importance to be kind to ourselves and others, not put high expectations on ourselves, making sure we have nice things going on in every day, eating and sleeping well, staying hydrated, exercising etc?
Are all staff clear about what to do if they have a more serious concern about a student’s mental health?
Do you have a system in place for safeguarding any pupils you or a member of your staff feel are at risk of harm?          
Have you got systems for identifying any new at-risk students for all staff to be aware of as needed?
Do you have specific support in place for pupils who were previously presenting as vulnerable to provide additional help with managing the knock-on effects that the pandemic will have had on their lives?
Does your designated safeguarding lead need more help at this time with managing this?
Are you using nurture groups to provide targeted support to those pupils whose mental health has been most affected by the pandemic and are lacking emotional help from elsewhere?
Have you got systems in place for pupils who most need help and support with reintegrating socially back in school?

Staff

Question                                           Answer Action required By when Involving whom? Completion date
What support mechanisms do you have in place for staff to help them recover from the negative impact lockdown and Covid-19 has had on their lives?
Do you have a counselling service available to support staff who are struggling with the emotions and negative impact of the pandemic on their own mental wellbeing?
What facilities have you put in place to help make staff feel as comfortable as possible with returning to work, eg perspex screens around their desk; thermal scanners so they don’t have to keep using thermometers to check temperatures; safe communal spaces where they can relax at break-times, with good hygiene in place for them to use etc?
Have you given staff adequate training in the processes you have in place to take care of pupil wellbeing?
Are these measures understood and enforceable by all staff?
Have you given staff new training in how to communicate with students regarding the pandemic and its impact on their lives?
What support mechanisms do you have in place for staff to help them recover from the negative impact lockdown and Covid-19 has had on their lives?
Have all staff been given suggestions of initial questions to ask pupils who they feel are struggling?          
How can you keep staff workload to a minimum to reduce their stress levels as much as possible? Eg encouraging them all to have at least one day a week taking no work home, sharing all-in-one lesson plans between colleagues etc

Bereavement

Question                                           Answer Action required By when Involving whom? Completion date
Does your pastoral team have clear guidance about how best to counsel both pupils and staff experiencing bereavement?
Do they have good contacts for external help and support with this?
Do they have a system in place for identifying and targeting support for those most in need?  

 

Curriculum & T&L

Question                                           Answer Action required By when Involving whom? Completion date
What curriculum activities and wellbeing approaches can you put in place to help boost pupils’ self-esteem, which for many will have diminished during this time?
What programme do you have in place to help re-engage pupils with learning in school?
Do you have measures in place to address pupils’ concerns about the cancellation of exams?
How have you planned in time and activities to help pupils understand and process the emotions they are feeling right now?
How can you incorporate emotional wellbeing and emotional intelligence skills more effectively within your current curriculum?
How are you helping pupils who are concerned they have fallen behind in their learning?
How have you created a welcoming atmosphere to help pupils feel secure and as relaxed as possible about returning? Is there more you could do?
How are you ensuring that all teaching staff focus on making the learning enjoyable, and easing off the pressures of assessment etc?
Are you relaxing your homework policy to take pressure off those students who are struggling?
Are all teachers aware of and know how to counter the negative affect anxiety can have on pupils’ ability to learn?
Are all teachers aware of and know how best to implement your new behaviour policy to take account of the impact of Covid-19?
Do you have in place a recovery intervention programme that can be personalised to pupils’ individual needs? This could include counselling, catch-up support, group discussion therapy, additional learning resources etc
Have you factored into your transition programme the impact that time away from school will have on pupils’ anxiety about moving on not just from KS2/3 but also leaving school, moving to a new year group etc?
Has your transition team been able to have effect remote contact with primary school link staff to identify learning needs and readiness for the new style of academic learning?
How are you helping pupils who are concerned about their future?
Given many pupils’ future progression plans will have been affected, have you adapted your CEIAG programme to allow for more 1:1 professional advice

 

Any other issues you need to plan for:

Issue Action required By when Involving whom? Completion date

 

Download a free copy of this tool to print off and use


Useful resources

Bereavement

Resources for schools for helping students with loss:

 

Possible initial questions to ask pupils to ascertain their state of mind:

  • How do you feel right now?
  • How long have you felt like this?
  • Do you have anyone who is supporting you with this?
  • Are there issues regarding school work and being back at school that are contributing to how you are feeling?
  • What can we do to help?

 


 

If you liked this tool and are looking for similar ones to help you in your curriculum/T&L leadership, see our Lead & Learn guides. All include practical tips and improvement tools for you to advance that specific area of your role

 

Engaging Parents in Learning        Staff development guide for schools    

For planning your curriculum coverage at this time, see our Curriculum/T&L Action Checklis


 

Is there anything your school is doing that has been particularly effective in supporting pupil and staff wellbeing right now?

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