The Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown, has had an unprecedented impact on the mental health and wellbeing of infants, children and young people. Our members report rising mental health needs, but also recognise that some children and young people have fared better being out of school.
We know that education is so important for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It plays a crucial part in maintaining social connections, in providing access to support, and helping children learn how to look after their mental health.
However, as we prepare to send pupils back to schools and colleges, we must move away from the excessive emphasis on ‘academic catch-up’ and discipline that is being promoted by government. This is creating undue pressure on children and young people, on their families, and on teachers.
Children’s mental health and wellbeing should not be competing with academic attainment or school discipline. Healthy, happy children are better able to learn and achieve in school. And poor behaviour is very often a sign of distress, especially for children who have been isolated for so long.
It is now more important than ever to put children’s mental health first as the majority return to school and college on Monday, after months of upheaval and changes to their normal routine.
We urge the Government to put children’s mental health at the heart of the return to school and college. Punitive approaches to discipline and excessive academic pressures will compound the harm that has already happened to children’s mental health. Instead, the Government should support schools to become safe places where children can regain their confidence and rebuild their lives.
We call on the Government to stop children being excluded from school this year to protect the most vulnerable from suffering longer term harm to their life chances.
Whilst we welcome the recent announcement of £79 million to expand the roll-out of Mental Health Support Teams to more schools by 2023, we urge the Government to be more ambitious in its plans. We need this support to be expanded to all schools as a matter of urgency so that no one is left behind without the care they need.
We need immediate action to make sure children and young people are supported as they come out of lockdown and return to education.
Vice Chair, The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition