While schools have remained open during the coronavirus crisis, many children have been unable or unwilling to attend. It is thought that in Greater Manchester as many as 300,000 of children (approximately 67%) will be returning to education for the first time in more than five months.
Many young people and their parents or carers have expressed worries about going back to school or college, including concerns about their own wellbeing, how social distancing will work and about the impact the break will have had on their academic performance.
The concerns of children and young people were sought from local schools and colleges and through the recent experiences of Greater Manchester metal health trusts and voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations.
To help support children and young people back to school the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSC Partnership) has worked with educational and clinical colleagues to create a series of resource packs to assist teachers to support students who may be understandably anxious.
The need for schools and colleges to have these resources became apparent after work undertaken for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Covid-19 Insight Report found that 80% of young people agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health worse – and 41% said the pandemics had made their mental health “much worse”.
Children and young people were asked how they felt about key issues, including: loss and bereavement, anxieties, fear of the virus, loss of routine and social connections, loneliness, disruption to education and living in difficult situations – such as fear of domestic violence.
The resource packs include videos, from different types of educational settings, featuring pupils speaking about what it has been like for them attending school during the pandemic. It is hoped that hearing from their peers will help students better understand what their return to formal education will be like. It is thought that Greater Manchester is unique in giving students a voice in this way.
The films have been made for primary and secondary schools, colleges and SEND schools (special educational needs and disability). In the films children and teachers talk not only about what it has been like at school during this period but also about their worries, how they coped with their feelings and how they are looking forward to seeing their friends return in the autumn.
In the films Lilly, a pupil at St Edwards RC Primary School in Oldham, describes her own return: “Coming back to school on the first day I was nervous, I was anxious. But it’s getting used to it.”
And Chanelle, a secondary school pupil from Buile Hill Academy in Salford: said: “It’s alright to be nervous. Everyone was nervous. If you ask everyone who’s in now, they were all nervous before they came in.”
Professor Sandeep Ranote, clinical director for mental health, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “It is completely normal for children and young people to feel anxious about going back to education in September.
“Returning to routine after such a long break would be dauting even without the added stress created by the pandemic and the feeling of not knowing what things are going to be like.
“That’s why we are working with schools and colleges across Greater Manchester to help them be confident in talking to their students and pupils about their wellbeing, to listen to their concerns and to be able to provide or direct them to the necessary support.”
The new school and college resources build on the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership’s longstanding commitment to supporting and improving the mental health of children and young people.
Since 2018 The Partnership has worked with schools, colleges and universities to better support students though programmes like the GM Mentally Health Schools and College Pilot, that provides pupils with mental health support – and the University Mental Health Service, a first of its kind service for university students experiencing mental illness, for example eating disorders and severe depression.
Watch the the safe return to learning films: