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Nine in 10 teachers ‘believe Covid-19 outbreak will damage mental health’

Stormont needs to invest more in helping schools put mental health at the heart of the education system, Barnardo’s NI said.

Nine in 10 teachers surveyed believe the Covid-19 outbreak will damage the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, a children’s charity in Northern Ireland has said.

Pupils will begin returning to classrooms later this month for the first time since lockdown began in March.

Stormont needs to invest more in helping schools put mental health at the heart of the education system, Barnardo’s NI said.

We know that for some children, this pandemic has been immensely difficult and we are very keen to get them all back to school safelyGarry Matthewson

Garry Matthewson, principal of Holy Family Primary School in Londonderry, said: “We really won’t know the full extent of the damage that has been caused until we have every child back to school and have the opportunity to re-establish, reconnect and develop those relationships again.

“That will be the real challenge.

“We know that for some children, this pandemic has been immensely difficult and we are very keen to get them all back to school safely.”

Pupils going into years seven, 12 and 14 are to return to school on August 24, with all others returning from August 31.

The report from Barnardo’s NI – entitled New Term, New Challenges, New Opportunities – made a series of recommendations to Stormont ministers.

Those included:

– Prioritising mental health and wellbeing in the curriculum as the system recovers from the shutdown forced by the virus;

– Increasing funding and investment;

– Delivering child-centred guidance, developed in consultation with schools, clearly and directly.

More than 90% of teachers surveyed agreed that Covid-19 had affected the school’s ability to support pupils with their mental health.

More than 80% believed lack of direct or face-to-face contact was the main effect, and nearly 90% felt the pandemic was likely to have an impact on the mental health of pupils.

The report is based on a recent survey of 167 education professionals across Northern Ireland carried out by the children’s charity.

Schools cannot take on this challenge alone though, and support and guidance from our Government will be crucialJulie Healy, Barnardo's NI

Julie Healy, head of programmes at Barnardo’s NI, said: “Most schools in Northern Ireland have been closed since March, with the vast majority of children learning at home, isolated from teachers, friends and a life they knew.

“With the new term on the horizon, schools are preparing to continue their learning in a changed environment and we must act on this opportunity to put children’s mental health at the heart of education.”

She said for many children, school is their lifeline, their safe space, and going back to school will offer vital support.

She added: “Schools cannot take on this challenge alone though, and support and guidance from our Government will be crucial.

“Based on the findings of our survey, we’re calling for the mental health and well being of pupils to be prioritised in the recovery curriculum.

“We’d also like to see clear, child-centred guidance developed in consultation with schools, and increased investment for mental health support in schools.”

PA