Charity urges Scottish Government to prioritise health and wellbeing of pupils on return to school

The Mental Health Foundation Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of pupils when they return to school in August.

It has also issued a warning that introducing social distancing measures in classrooms could compound distress and trauma for many children, following months of limited social interaction.

While the Scottish Government and Local Authorities are working to find models that balance maximising both the safety of pupils with educational needs, the charity has highlighted the growing body of international evidence on the psychological harms of lockdown and social distancing on the mental health and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people.

Recent research conducted by the charity revealed that over half (58%) of young people aged between 18-24 living in Scotland have felt anxious or worried because of the coronavirus pandemic over the last two weeks. The latest research, carried out between 22-29 May, also found that over one in five (23%) feel afraid, with over a third (41%) saying they have felt lonely over the last two weeks.

The charity is now urging the Scottish Government to ensure a number of key measures are put in place to help safeguard the mental wellbeing of our children and young people on their return to school, and prevent problems from escalating.

The key recommendations include:

1.       Prioritising Health and Wellbeing in the first two months of term  

2.       Increasing and expanding the range of Mental Health Support Workers in schools

3.       Rolling out a “Wellbeing Hour” in schools across Scotland  

4.       Conducting an impact assessment on the psychological consequences of introducing social distancing in schools – involving young people in the process

5.       Working with employers to guarantee flexibility and protection for parents

6.       Supporting the mental health of teachers and other school staff

Toni Giugliano, Senior Policy Manager at Mental Health Foundation Scotland said:

“We’re acutely aware of the significant challenges that COVID-19 has posed to the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and their families, as well as the demand that has been placed on schools and community support networks. There’s a growing body of evidence that lockdown and social distancing are harming young people’s mental health.

“Children and young people are least likely to be affected by Covid19 physically but are most likely to be affected psychologically. To introduce social distancing in schools could exacerbate the trauma and distress that many have experienced in the last few months. We’re urging the Scottish Government to fully consider the psychological consequences of keeping children apart – particularly for the most vulnerable or those who thrive on school-based interactions.

“Our time spent in school, during those important developmental years of our adolescence shape us and pave the way for our future.  How schools respond and support children and young people will have a significant influence on the mental health and wellbeing of our next generation.

“That’s why today we’re urging school leaders to increase timetabled hours for health and wellbeing in the first two months of term, to help children process what has happened and ease their way back to normality. Time for play should be prioritised for younger age groups – perhaps in smaller groups in a way that is safe, giving children the chance to benefit from much needed close interaction with their peers.”

Jacqueline Pollock, Pastoral Head at St Mungos High School in Falkirk said: “These recommendations confirm what we have been hearing during our regular contacts with parents and pupils over the past 13 weeks. Many have raised concerns about social isolation and uncertainty about the future. Disruption to sleep patterns has also been a significant factor in the lives of many young people as routines have changed significantly. We are working very hard to maintain good lines of communication and our strong sense of school community even though we are apart; relationships are everything and our young people must know that we are always there for them.

“We have a supportive and caring school community which places the well-being of each young person at its heart. At the core of our recovery plan is the safety and physical and mental wellbeing of our pupils, their families and staff. We achieve this best by working together and offering the right support and advice to all who need it.”