Support for the mental well being of teachers is vital if they are to face all the challenges they are likely to meet in getting children back on track when they return to school in September.
Are teachers ready for the mental health impact of the return to school? It’s not just the children who have faced increased anxiety, and possibly bereavement, since lockdown.
School staff also face these pressures and also concerns about how they are going to cope with getting the many children who have missed half a year of school back into the swing of classroom learning and ensuring their mental well being in the process.
An ONS report out this week shows the mental health impact of Covid-19, with rates of depression doubling in adults, and people aged 16 to 39, women, disabled people and those unable to afford an unexpected expense the most likely to experience it.
A roundtable organised by the Julian Campbell Foundation – a charity that supports children and young people suffering from any type of diagnosed mental distress – took place earlier this week and focused on how this rise in mental ill health affects schools and, in particular, teachers.
Speakers mentioned the relative lack of focus on teachers’ mental health and the big expectations on them.
Small-scale research carried out on London schools by the Julian Campbell Foundation showed that young people’s mental health has been quite seriously impacted by the pandemic. Teachers have been trying to keep in touch with the most vulnerable, mainly via regular phone calls and emails. Children have struggled with lack of access to the internet, loss of motivation and difficulty in staying on task, among other things.
The survey highlighted a noticeable gap in the link-up of schools with other agencies, with many teachers being unaware of what other agencies were doing and, while just under half of teachers had done a mental health course, nearly a third did not know what provisions were in place for mental health training. Half did not know if there was any provision for support for senior leadership teams.
The roundtable participants ranged from people who had suffered from mental health issues and counsellors to primary and secondary teachers, charity workers, parents and a health writer.
Teachers spoke of how their schools were preparing for the return, with several talking about using inset days at the start of term to look at mental health and allow teachers to share their experiences. One teacher said her school had sent out questionnaires to teachers to identify their needs and was planning for students to be off timetable for the first days back to give children the time to talk about their experiences of lockdown and share any anxiety they might have, for instance, about falling behind in their school work.
Another teacher said her school had conducted risk assessments on children and her senior leadership team had met every member of staff individually to talk about the return to school. Others were looking to embed mental health in the curriculum through focusing on texts linked to mental well being.
Schools are aware, too, that children’s situations may have changed over the summer holidays.
There was a discussion about the pre-existing stress on teachers before Covid, which had prompted many to leave the profession, and the fact that some schools did not know which teachers were under pressure. And while inset days on mental health were good, participants said ongoing support and check-ins were necessary as the pandemic and the recession in its wake progress. Adaptability to changing circumstances, for instance, the impact of local lockdowns and quarantines or of teachers getting sick, could bring increased stress.
There was also concern about whether schools were linking up with parents enough about mental health support. One workshop organiser said schools could offer mental health workshops to parents, although others remarked that resources are very limited. One participant drew attention to the fact that the Mental Health Foundation has recently updated its resources for parents and schools.
One counsellor spoke of the need to equip teachers with the skills to manage their emotions so they can in turn manage the demands of parents and children better. She said the focus should be on changing the narrative so that teachers and children felt more able to deal with change and didn’t panic. Children also needed to be given the tools to feel confident enough to ask for help when they needed it, she said.