Pupils’ mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, with depression having a big impact on their schoolwork, while schools struggle with insufficient resources to support students with this. These were the troubling findings of a raft of reports out this month on pupil wellbeing.

 

State of health

As well as a deterioration of mental health, Covid-19 has also caused greater levels of psychological distress for older students, found the State of the Nation report. But overall, students have shown ‘huge resilience in the face of change’ wrought by the pandemic, it said.

Its findings should help schools to ‘better support the longer-term outcomes’ for pupils, said the report. No mention was made of specific help and resources that the DfE would provide so schools could provide the necessary support to students.

 

Increase in disorders

A survey by NHS Digital revealed that the number of pupils with mental-health disorders has increased by almost 50% – from one in nine pupils in 2017 to one in six in 2020.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2020 report also revealed the impact of domestic disturbance on pupils’ mental health, which has worrying implications as we head into another lockdown. Nearly two-thirds of girls with a mental health issue had seen or heard an argument between adults in their household. Pupils of both genders with a mental health disorder were twice as likely to live in a disadvantaged household.

Deeply concerning for schools was the finding that these pupils were also less likely to have received regular support from schools during lockdown than other students.

 

Lack of onsite support

A report from the IPPR revealed that only half of schools were able to offer pupils onsite counselling. The thinktank called on government to make this a national entitlement after the pandemic. 

The New Normal: The Future of Education After Covid-19 found pupils in private schools and better-off areas were more likely to have access to these support services.

‘Without urgent government action to ensure every school can provide vital services such as counselling and after-school clubs there is a profound risk that the legacy of the pandemic will be even bigger educational and health inequalities,’ said author Harry Quilter Pinner, Associate Director at the IPPR.

 

Inability to cope

Recent research for the Prince’s Trust found that more than one-quarter of students felt unable to cope during the pandemic. More than one-third said they struggled to think clearly – an issue that curriculum leaders need to take account of with relation to how they deliver their remote learning programme.

On average one to two students in every class are likely to be suffering from depression, according to new research from King’s College London. Students with a diagnosis of depression need extra support to help prevent them from dropping grades in their exams. Only 45% of Year 11 students with depression achieved five A* to C grades, which is lower than the average of 53%.

 

Taking action

‘This study has two important policy implications: it demonstrates just how powerful depression can be in reducing young people’s chances at fulfilling their potential, and provides a strong justification for how mental health and educational services need to work to detect and support young people prior to critical academic milestones,’ said one of the researchers, Dr Johnny Downs.

He suggested a range of action curriculum leaders could take to help support students with depression. 

These include:

  • being aware of students with a past history of depression, given exams could trigger a relapse
  • collaborating with the student’s therapist to plan a suitable work schedule for preparing for the exams
  • finding out about the exam board’s exceptional circumstances policy so students can apply to that if appropriate
  • running universal exam prep workshops and anxiety management programmes.

 

The NEU called for more funding for onsite mental health support, including counsellors based in schools.

 


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