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Focus on mental health as children and young people return to school

The return to schools and colleges has sparked concerns about the impact of the coronavirus, associated periods of lockdown and isolation, and uncertainty about the future on children and young people’s mental health.

To support schools, colleges, pupils and their families the Anna Freud Centre is publishing a range of back to school resources.

Today the Anna Freud Centre has released a new animation, Moving up! The transition to secondary school, which aims to help year 7 (and year 6) pupils feel more confident, less anxious and better equipped to cope with the changes associated with moving to secondary school.

The animation is accompanied by lesson activities and an assembly plan, which will support pupils to discuss some of their potential worries and let pupils know they are not alone if they are feeling worried about moving to secondary school. It will also help to come up with solutions to help such as, talking to a trusted adult or friend if you have any concerns and knowing there are lots of ways to look after your mental health including self-care.

The Anna Freud Centre’s Mentally Healthy Schools website has also developed two toolkits to help schools support children and staff wellbeing as they return to school and to help plan a wellbeing inset day.  

Also published today, the Anna Freud Centre’s third issue of Emerging Evidence on Coronavirus and children and young people’s mental health has been examining existing evidence from coronavirus studies carried out recently by the research community. This research shows that mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression have markedly increased – with feelings of panic, stress, fear and fatigue amid uncertainty and a lack of control among young people being widespread. However, for some the pandemic has had a positive mental health impact due to a sense of support and reduced stressors, such as social pressures at school.

The research also shows children and young people with pre-existing health and education needs, such as anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and/or special educational needs are experiencing an increase in symptoms and compromised access to support due to limited capacity of a range of services. Children and young people of colour, and those with pre-existing social care needs are also disproportionally affected and may be struggling more.

Jaime Smith, Director of the Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools Programme at the Anna Freud Centre says: “Transition to secondary school can be a difficult  time for many children under normal circumstances, but this September will bring with it new challenges. Our new animation and accompanying resources are timely, and will support pupils who haven’t been able to participate in traditional transition preparation and goodbyes to their primary school due to the pandemic.

“While for many the transition back to school may be positive, it will also bring feelings of nervousness and worry for some children and young people. School leaders and teachers have put in place changes to their day-to-day operation in order to ensure the safety of their pupils and staff, so the school environment will feel different for pupils.

“It is important for school staff supporting young people to recognise that the pandemic may have long-term impacts on the mental health of children and young people, and each pupil will bring their experience of coronavirus and lockdown with them. Teachers may notice new and different behaviours in some of their pupils. It is important for staff to normalise that it’s ok to feel anxious at this time. Change can be disruptive, and people respond in different ways, but all of us have and will face challenges. 

“Communicating with parents and carers, as well as having strong systems of support for children and young people, as well as staff, and prioritising mental health and wellbeing will be of the utmost importance as everyone goes back to school.”