Call for dedicated mental health professionals in schools post-lockdown

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There have been further calls for a focus on wellbeing and mental health as schools re-open to more students – including a proposal to place dedicated mental health professionals in schools.

A survey finds that public opinion is split on whether children should be going back to school this month, but there is a unanimous view that pastoral considerations should take priority as schools re-open further.

The polling has been commissioned by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which is calling for a “year of stabilisation” for schools and wider society as well as a greater investment in digital learning.

The survey involved more than 2,000 people and finds that only 44 per cent trust the government to have put children’s interests first in its plans to re-open schools to more students. However, 84 per cent said they trusted teachers, while 59 per cent said they trusted the more cautious approach advocated by the teaching unions.

A third of respondents supported a phased return to schools in June while 23 per cent want schools to open only when a vaccine or treatment has been found.

Furthermore, a third of respondents believe that schools should not be open in June at all, rising to more than 40 per cent for parents of children aged 18 and under.

In terms of priorities as and when pupils do return, the findings show that 83 per cent want schools to become more “relational”, with support for the RSA’s proposal – made in a report on exclusions published in March – of ensuring every child has a trusted adult in school whom they can approach for support (Partridge et al, 2020).

Other priorities should be social and emotional support for disadvantaged pupils (52 per cent), basing teams of mental health professionals in schools (62 per cent), and more time spent on teaching wellbeing and resilience (54 per cent).

It comes after charity Barnardo’s warned the government against prioritising the attainment gap over the “trauma gap” when schools return more fully.

A Barnardo’s report published last week warned that children returning to school will be experiencing grief, anxiety about catching the virus, separation anxiety and other pressures. There will also be a range of safeguarding concerns. It has called for a “readjustment period” of at least one term to help schools focus on these issues.

Laura Partridge, associate director of education at the RSA, said: “The crisis could be a time to rethink school priorities. Our findings show that the disruption caused by the pandemic has cemented the case for a greater focus on social and emotional support in schools.

“The public want to see a trusted adult allocated to each child in school and more dedicated mental health professionals available to pupils to ensure that children have the support they need to overcome the challenges posed by this crisis, and to build a thriving education system for the future.”

The RSA’s year of stabilisation proposal – which was outlined by chief research and impact officer Anthony Painter and chief executive Matthew Taylor in a blog entry last month (2020) – covers a wide range of areas, but for education would involve safe access to schools for three days a week for every pupil.

The “rapid levelling up of good digital practice” should continue, with additional support for those who do not have access to online learning. There would also be support outside of schools, increased support for the vulnerable, and additional help for teachers including through expert volunteer tutors – recruited from graduates and occupations in relevant fields.

  • Partridge et al: Pinball Kids: Preventing school exclusions, RSA, March 2020: https://bit.ly/2BgNNTR
  • RSA: The director of RSA Education, Danielle Mason, has published a blog discussing further the survey findings – Will a lack of trust undermine school reopening? May 2020: https://bit.ly/2U293TZ
  • Taylor & Painter: Covid-19: A ‘year of stabilisation’ to build bridges to the future, RSA, May 2020: https://bit.ly/2MnS3Dk


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