The pandemic no doubt has widened the prevailing attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers but the more intangible effects on mental health and pupil confidence cannot be overlooked.
A survey conducted by Young Minds has exposed the far-reaching consequences of school closures with 74% of respondents agreeing that schools being closed to most students over the period of lockdown has had a negative impact on the mental health of young people.
This can manifest in disrupted routines with the absence of the classroom environment, lack of socialisation with school peers, loss of important milestones, stress over missed learning and lack of access to trusted adults to more personal issues such as dealing with bereavement and family conflict. It reasserts the notion that schools do not simply exist to deliver academic provision, but for all pupils- particularly those at disadvantage- schools offer a safe space for students to become the best version of themselves and cultivate a sense of identity and belonging.
The impact of the pandemic has led to teachers rethinking policy and approaches such as equipping themselves to be ‘trauma informed’ in the aftermath of school closures.
As one School-co-ordinator remarks ‘We’ve had to almost go back to the fundamentals of instilling basic habits- something as simple as ensuring pupils are fully present in lessons, as their sleeping patterns have been severely unsettled. And underlying all of this, there is a very real anxiety and uncertainty that staff and pupils must contend with- will the stability of being back in school be taken away again? It’s a real crisis in self-belief for some pupils and a challenge that we are only starting to see the full repercussions of and grapple with.’
So, where does this leave us? Pupils, teachers and schools are very much still in a transitional phase, where the process of dealing with the watershed of a one in a lifetime crisis is still fresh. Navigating the impact of mental health on pupils will require both individual and whole school level strategy ranging from pastoral support to bespoke counselling, with charities such as Team Up playing a crucial role, now more than ever, to rebuild pupil confidence and ensure that students can aspire for the best outcomes during the most challenging circumstances. Tutors are not simply placed on programmes to prevent students from falling behind; they are role models and mentors to help develop pupils emotionally and guide them to realise they can succeed- even through a pandemic!