After a year of disrupted education and lockdowns that saw over 80% of students learning from home, we consider the impact COVID-19 has had on students’ mental health and wellbeing, and how St Columba’s Catholic Primary School in Barrow in Furness, is using ScholarPack to identify concerns and support students.
Why are we talking about student mental health now?
The impact of repeated lockdowns has been hard on many groups, and some studies have shown increasing rates of mental health concerns in children and young people. A 2017 study found that one in ten primary school aged children had an identifiable mental health condition, and one in thirty had multiple conditions. The same study also found that boys were twice as likely to be affected as girls. A follow up to this study, carried out in July 2020, found that around one in six children aged 5-10 showed evidence of a possible mental health condition, and the increase in incidence for boys was noted as a significant change.
Schools and school staff are instrumental in signposting students and families to support via CAMHS or other support services, but may also undertake work in school. ScholarPack’s Mental Health and Wellbeing tracker forms part of our Simple Assessment package. It gives you a way to identify students who may benefit from support, and report on specific areas of concern, as well as track students’ progress and the impact of the interventions used.
How can you measure mental health and wellbeing?
You may already have clinical assessment tools to use in school, like the Boxall Profile, that can give you information on a student’s current wellbeing. Measuring Mental Wellbeing: A Toolkit for Schools has links to a range of tools covering various aspects of mental health and wellbeing. Or, you might rely on staff judgements and knowledge of students.
The staff at St Columba’s Catholic Primary School use ScholarPack as a stimulus for one-to-one discussions between students and teachers. Every student spends some time each week with their teacher updating their own assessment. Sometimes that will be a quick “yeah, it’s all fine.” Other times, a longer conversation is needed about what has changed and why.
Whichever you choose, you can decide which aspects to monitor and how to ‘grade’ individual students. There’s more information on how to set up a mental health and wellbeing tracker in Simple Assessment here.
What happens next??
Knowing where the concerns are isn’t the end, though. It’s just the beginning. What you choose to do next will vary depending on the student’s age and context, and the level and number of concerns identified. In the most complex circumstances, you might find you need to refer to an external partner. This article from The Key for School Leaders offers useful advice on supporting students and their families through the process.
For less complex issues, or while awaiting external support, there may be interventions you are able to offer within school through nurture groups, play therapy, mindfulness sessions, or support sessions for families. Mentally Healthy Schools offers advice and resources for schools aimed at helping staff to support, understand and promote pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.
St Columba’s is working to embed emotional resilience throughout the curriculum having identified this as an area of need for its students. Staff are using the Talking Mental Health Tooolkit in class to develop students' awareness of what good mental health means, and how they can look after their own wellbeing. The school also plans to set up a lunch club to help develop self-confidence and emotional awareness for students needing some extra support.
Alongside class-based provision, the school also employs a nurse through a local partnership. She provides support to students and families as well as advice to staff. They are planning to continue using weekly one-to-one chat sessions in the summer term as both students and staff have found the opportunity valuable. They will also use the information to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their work on emotional resilience.
Don’t forget about the adults...
It’s not just about the students, though. Don’t forget about the adults too - supporting someone shouldn’t be to the detriment of your own wellbeing. Use the support systems in place within your school, or contact Education Support for confidential advice.