According to research published by Place2Be and NAHT, the vast majority of staff working in UK schools (95%) have noticed increased levels of pupil anxiety since the start of the school year.
This is certainly the experience of Head teacher Zoe Foulsham who shares the view that the impact of the pandemic is still being felt in schools.
“As a result of Covid-19 and the national lockdowns, we have seen children more likely to struggle with their emotional wellbeing. This can mean them being withdrawn, anxious, or suffering from trauma-related behaviours, such as being hyper-vigilant or struggling to maintain focus.”
The school’s response is to continue their focus on a whole school approach to addressing the increased need amongst their pupils. Staff have high levels of training for overseeing pupils’ emotional wellbeing. This isn’t just the occasional CPD session, but rather the result of a consistent conversation around mental health and wellbeing. New staff are inducted in this when they join, but they also learn over time through seeing existing staff talk about, and towards children to see how they are treated with respect.
This culture is reflected in the school’s behaviour management approaches. When unwanted behaviours arise in children, staff look deeper to understand why this is happening, and if there are any traumas that they can be supported with. The approach is always pastoral rather than punitive.
Behaviour is managed through dialogue with teacher and child, it is not a shame-based approach which highlights children who have misbehaved. However poor the behaviour, there is never a public audience to approaching it, but instead it’s a deeper conversation to understand the underlying reasons behind the behaviour.
Vicky Rhodes Assistant Head and SENCO, explains that a key element to this is the use of Zones of Regulation across the school. “This teaches children emotional literacy, emotional support strategies, and helps them understand how they can actively work on supporting their own mental health.”
The teaching team also have regular pastoral meetings, where a close look is taken at children who have displayed emotional behaviours to determine what support they need. One option is encouraging children to work with the learning mentor for a lunchtime or playtime session. This offers a relaxing and informal space where children can talk about any difficulties while doing a range of activities, whether that’s football, table tennis, drawing or even cookery (whatever they are most likely to respond well to). Another welcome member of the pastoral team is Wilson the dog who has been a part of the school for 5 years. He is taken for daily walks with Zoe and pupils who need pastoral support.
The school has more formalised external support in some cases. But this is complicated by the fact that the capacity just isn’t there these days outside the school. Vicky Rhodes highlights the national shortage of Educational Psychologists for example, with provision in their borough halved in recent months. This is reflected in the national picture, with only 23% of staff surveyed by Place2Be, saying they had regularly been able to access specialist support for pupils with mental health needs.
Zoe Foulsham is resolute in the school’s response to this, “We are willing to dedicate a significant part of our budget to bring in external support, but if we can’t find the people, then we will have to keep on supporting our children ourselves. Putting their wellbeing at the heart of our school is our first priority.”