Children will need significant emotional support as they return to school, Barnardo’s says, as a poll for the leading national children’s charity suggests hundreds of thousands of children could refuse to go while others feel nervous, upset and scared.
The new poll suggests that the children of more than 440,000 parents across the UK could be refusing to return to school.
Almost a quarter of parents of children aged 18 and under surveyed (23%) say their children are nervous about going back to the classroom, and 4% say their children are refusing to return.
A tenth of the 1,000 parents surveyed by YouGov said their children were scared about it and 5% said their children are upset about going back to school.
Barnardo’s says it is vital for all schools to be allowed to have a “readjustment period” of at least a term where teachers can prioritise staff and pupil wellbeing, instead of being back to ‘business as usual’ from day one.
The charity also says the Government must ensure schools have the tools, skills and resources to support children and give a higher priority to their mental health and wellbeing in the longer-term.
Covid-19 outbreak, as well as side effects of the measures to contain it, have exposed the country’s children and young people to an unprecedented level of trauma, loss and adversity.
Some children and young people will have experienced domestic abuse, poverty or child abuse for the first time. Others will be grieving for loved ones, and we know the virus has disproportionately affected BAME communities.
Barnardo’s See, Hear, Respond (SHR) programme, funded by the Department for Education, and delivered in partnership with more than 70 national and local charities, is aimed at children and young people in England who may have become vulnerable because of coronavirus.
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It supports them with issues around bullying, hate crime and racism or anxiety. It also works with children moving into secondary school, or who have been excluded or suspended, and who may also need significant help.
Trained therapists work closely with children, parents or carers, and their school, to help them get back in the classroom.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Returning to school for the first time in months will undoubtedly be nerve-wracking for many children, their parents and their teachers.
“The pandemic and lockdown have been hugely traumatic for young people – separation from friends, anxiety about the virus and financial pressures at home have taken a serious toll on their mental health.
“It’s vital that children go back to the classroom, but with so much continued uncertainty about the virus, it’s natural that some will be fearful – above and beyond the usual first-day jitters.
“The Government must now work with schools to reassure children and their families that schools are safe – otherwise some pupils may simply not return. Messages also need to be culturally sensitive, reflecting the heightened concern amongst BAME communities, who have been hardest hit by Covid-19.
“When classes do begin, teachers must be supported to focus on mental health and wellbeing, so children can address feelings of trauma, bereavement and anxiety, and readjust to being in the classroom.
“Lockdown has been especially hard for vulnerable children who are now facing not only an ‘attainment gap’ but also a ‘trauma gap’ compared to their classmates.
“Barnardo’s specially trained staff are available through our See, Hear, Respond service to support them, and I urge teachers and parents to get in touch.”