The Department for Education’s £8 million grant to train teachers in helping pupils to deal with mental health problems post-lockdown will “not address the scale of the challenge”, says Labour’s shadow education minister, Margaret Greenwood.
Former secondary teacher Ms Greenwood says she is concerned not only about pupils’ anxieties over Covid-19, but also about the stress teachers are already under just a few weeks into the term, as revealed by Tes this week.
The Labour Party Conference starts this Sunday when it will include a policy discussion on “putting the nation’s health and wellbeing at the heart of society”, and on Monday an education debate takes place around the challenges and opportunities for young people post Covid-19.
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Ms Greenwood told Tes: “One of the things we’re keen to make sure that the government hears loud and clear is that we believe children’s wellbeing is just as important as they return to school-based learning as their education, and that a child’s wellbeing and mental health really is the foundation for any learning.”
But she said teachers were already employing their own “recovery curriculum” by allowing space for children to talk about their experiences of Covid-19.
She added: “The sort of thing teachers have been talking to me about is helping pupils to articulate their experiences and their emotional response whether that’s about them personally – what they’ve been through themselves – or what their perception of it is.
“The ability to articulate how you are feeling is hugely important for your own personal development and wellbeing. Encouraging children to do that and find the language for that is massively important.”
Last month, the DfE announced the £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return programme to support both teacher and pupil mental health. It will pay for local experts to train nominated staff in schools and colleges, and provide advice to school leaders through to March 2021.
But Greenwood added: “I think it probably won’t address the scale of the challenge really because it’s about teacher training and material for teachers, but there are all the [other] aspects that need consideration like the lack of access to CAMHS [child and adolescent mental health services] and the stress that teachers are being put under at the moment.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our Wellbeing for Education Return programme is supporting staff in schools and colleges to respond to the additional pressures some children and young people may be feeling as a direct result of the pandemic, as well as to any emotional response they or their teachers may still be experiencing from bereavement, stress, trauma or anxiety over the past months.”
The DfE says that its other measures to support pupil mental health have included £1.6 million to expand and promote the NSPCC’s helpline, as well as providing £7 million to the See, Hear, Respond service led by Barnardo’s to support those experiencing various forms of exploitation. It has made £3.7 billion available to local authorities, helping them meet additional demands including within children’s social care services.