Place2Be is a national charity providing mental health support in more than 80 primary and high schools across Scotland, and the overriding message we are hearing from our partner schools is that children and young people are glad to be back. While some children have benefitted from more time at home with their families, most are grateful to be returning to their routines and a sense of normality.
Of course, this has not been without its challenges. Claire Gray, Headteacher at Holy Cross Primary school in Edinburgh, and her team have been working hard with families to ensure a smooth return. It has been tiring, especially for little ones who aren’t used to the routine and pace of school life. For many children who don’t have outdoor space at home, the fresh air and exercise has been welcome. Coughs and sneezes are doing the rounds but as Claire says: “These are good things. The children are building their immunity and resilience.”
Another challenges that staff have noticed is that some children are having difficulty reconnecting with friends. This may be because they haven’t had to share or take turns in the same way they do in school, or because they have spent so much time alone with only online contact.
At St Monica’s Primary School in Glasgow, each day the children come in and say how they are feeling. Headteacher Martin Broadley, discussed the challenges arising as a result of vital safety measures. “[Pupils] want to come and tell you things but you can’t be normal because they have to be safe. Hidden behind a mask isn’t best, they need to see your expression and lips. Some children really struggle with it. It’s hard to be as effective.”
In secondary schools, the issues facing young people have been different. At Tynecastle High School in Edinburgh they report that “anxiety is an ongoing issue for many, and senior students are particularly anxious and stressed about exam cancellations and how they will be graded. Students can seem quiet and subdued in lessons - possibly feeling they might be ‘exposed’ for having missed out on some learning.”
Jacquie Ramsey, Deputy Headteacher at Tynecastle High, said “We consider ourselves so lucky to have Place2Be in our school. Promoting and supporting good mental health and wellbeing in our students, their families and our staff is an integral part of our school ethos and having Place2Be enables us to deliver this effectively.”
The level of change and uncertainty over the past year has been hard for pupils and teachers alike. Many have experienced significant additional challenges – such as the death of a loved one or a family member losing a job or being furloughed. In all of these moments, our mental health experts are on hand to help children and teachers with more targeted support. Martin Broadley added: “It’s been a big strain on the staff. Making sure we’re there and giving them an opportunity to talk through Place2Be has been important.”
We don’t yet know what the long-term impact of this pandemic will be on children and young people’s mental health, but what is clearer than ever is the important role that schools will play as we try to regain a sense of normality. By providing easily accessible mental health support in the safety of the school environment, we can ensure that every young person gets the help they need, whenever they need it.