A report by the children's commissioner calls for an "urgent" catch-up package for schools following the pandemic, including targeted intervention for disadvantaged pupils.
The report is based on findings from a survey of more than half a million pupils, commissioned by children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza.
It calls for improved services for pupils struggling with attendance and emotional problems, as well as other common consequences from the pandemic.
Catch-up cash: How England compares with other nations
The report adds that all pupils should "be offered voluntary sessions during the school week for academic catch‑up support and a richer set of extracurricular activities", while tutoring support should be prioritised.
"For schools where that is not possible, consider a direct grant to school in lieu," the report suggests.
It says that, following the pandemic, "the first priority is to bolster catch‑up funding for schools; we should then use this effort to embed high‑quality, early‑intervention support in the long‑term – both pastorally and academically".
'The first priority is to bolster catch-up funding for schools'
Tes asked the office of the children's commissioner how much additional funding should be provided by the government for catch-up but it said it could not provide a figure.
The Big Ask survey of 557,077 pupils, completed over April and May, also found that a fifth of pupils were unhappy about their mental health, making it their top concern.
Girls were twice as likely to be unhappy with their mental health compared with boys (25 per cent versus 13 per cent).
The survey found that seven in 10 pupils were happy with their life overall, while 57 per cent of pupils were happy with their mental health.
Almost a third (32 per cent) of 16- to 17-year olds were unhappy about their mental health, as were 40 per cent of girls in this age group.
More than half (52 per cent) of respondents said having good mental health in the future is one of their main aspirations – rising to 63 per cent of 16- to 17-year olds.
Four in 10 children said the environment was one of their main priorities and concerns for the future, while the second most common worry reported was whether they will grow up to benefit from a healthy planet.
Among all groups of children, the top things they said they cared about were their mental and physical health, things to do in their local area, life at school and progress in education.
In the survey, just over half of nine- to 17‑year‑olds (52 per cent) said having a good education was one of their top future priorities, and this figure was higher for pupils from the most deprived areas, as well as for pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Just over half (56 per cent) said they were happy with life at school or college, while 16 per cent were unhappy, and 68 per cent were happy with their progress in education, while 10 per cent were unhappy with this.
Pupils living in more deprived areas or attending schools rated "inadequate" were more likely to be unhappy with life at school.
Dame Rachel described the pupils' responses as a “rich display of honesty, hope and authenticity about what concerns them”.
They also indicated that young people feel “burdened with a sense of inherited problems”.
She said: “This is not a ‘snowflake generation.’ It is a heroic generation. A generation of children who are veterans of a global crisis.
“They have seen how colossally frightening life can be, far too young, and have made a lot of sacrifices.
“But they have endured, and are emerging stronger and prematurely wise. Bruised, yes, and in many cases seriously vulnerable, but, for the most part, happy, optimistic and determined.
“They are a survivor generation – a sleeves‑up, pragmatic generation, with civic‑minded aspirations.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I’m encouraged to see most children and young people are happy, resilient and ambitious, but there are concerns, too, and we must address them.
“We know that the pandemic hit young people hard, which is why we have launched a tutoring revolution to make sure they catch up, and bolstered mental health support in schools. As we drive to level up opportunities across the country, we will continue prioritising young people’s wellbeing alongside academic success.
“This survey shows the variety of concerns young people have – and the government has taken action to address them. From an online safety bill to committing to net zero and hosting COP26 [the climate change conference] later this year, we are taking the necessary steps to keep our young people safe while making sure we protect the world for generations to come.”
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: "Children and young people have faced unprecedented challenges over the last 18 months but remain optimistic, ambitious and excited for their futures.
“Labour is determined to match this ambition with our comprehensive catch-up plan – as the children’s commissioner has called for – delivering small group tutoring, new activities for every child to socialise and play with friends, and expert mental health support in every school ensuring children can bounce back from the pandemic.
“The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout the pandemic and are now neglecting them in our recovery with a 'feeble' catch-up plan. It’s time the Conservatives step up and match Labour’s ambition for our children and their futures.”