The impact of the first Covid-19 lockdown has led to a surge in mental health issues amongst school pupils, according to new reports from the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).
And there are fears that the impact will be even greater as the report only deals with the period from March to June last year and the school return from August to December in 2020.
Pupils then faced a further three months of remote learning and many pupils only returned to face-to-face teaching in the last two weeks.
Pressures both at home and over schoolwork had left pupils in post-primary schools dealing with “a greater number of mental health matters, some of which were directly related to lockdown”, the ETI said. Main issues included “greater incidences of self-harm, anxiety and depression”.
Schools also reported “increased cases of domestic violence” and “more young people taking on the role of carers as the health and social care system was not able to provide respite” with some schools urging more “in-house” support for pupils’ mental health.
“Absence of input on the ground from outside agencies, with support delivered online and longer waiting times for referrals, put pressure on staff in schools across this time period,” the ETI said.
The inspectorate said that pupils had missed out on practical work in some subjects, extra-curricular activities, development of social skills and work placements due to restrictions, and that the job of teachers had become “more complex and demanding” while post-primary school leaders also said pupils, parents and staff said concerns about how qualifications would be awarded in 2021 had had a major impact.
Further concerns were expressed about the mental health of principals in primary, special schools and pre-schools.
Of pre-schools, the report said: “While all reported feeling under pressure, a minority reported feeling overwhelmed and stated that the workload had impacted negatively on their work/home life balance and negatively affected their emotional health and wellbeing."
In primary schools there were concerns that some aspects of the curriculum were more difficult online. These included early language and reading skills, phonological awareness, the development of mathematical concepts and the development of gross and fine motor skills.
Primary schools were also aware of a growing number of families who needed emotional or financial help.
“In response to a growing number of families in need and in mental health crises, schools have increased communication and engagement with local community partnerships and charities to support the needs of local families,” the report added.