2021 Autumn Term 2

The know zone

  • The Other Pandemic
    We all know that children's mental health and wellbeing has been hit by lockdown, but the problems were acute even before Covid-19. To avoid a crisis, action is needed quickly, says Tiffnie Harris More
  • Deferral danger?
    As the headlines scream of huge numbers of university deferrals this summer, Kevin Gilmartin examines the implications for next year's applicants. More
  • Be cyber secure
    With cybercrime on the rise and fraudsters increasingly targeting schools and colleges, Hayley Dunn shares advice on how to be cyber secure. More
  • Ministerial priorities
    What issues do you believe the new Secretary of State for Education should make a priority? Here ASCL members have their say... More
  • Blue-nosed leader
    Headteacher Neil Wallace says serving as a senior leader in three very different communities put him in good stead to join ASCL Council. Here, he shares his passion for Council, leadership and Birmingham City Football Club. More
  • Who's your Piglet?
    Are you sitting comfortably? An old hand suggests matching members of your team with characters from a favourite children's story to make meetings much more agreeable More
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We all know that children’s mental health and wellbeing has been hit by lockdown, but the problems were acute even before Covid-19. To avoid a crisis, action is needed quickly, says Tiffnie Harris

The Other Pandemic

The pandemic has, unquestionably, had a major impact on children’s health and wellbeing. 

The Sutton Trust’s report, Fairness First: Social mobility, covid and education recovery (tinyurl.com/2uf2tmn6), published in May this year, says, “Cuts to wider supports and local authority services in recent years, particularly in deprived parts of the country, have meant that schools often pick up the slack… with initial evidence indicating that the wellbeing among disadvantaged pupils was worse during the [Covid] crisis.” 

Wellbeing concerns post-pandemic do not solely apply to mental health. The Public Health England Obesity Profile (tinyurl.com/26nww2y4), last published in December 2020, shows that one in three children in England are leaving primary school overweight or living with obesity. It goes on to say, “Obesity prevalence is highest amongst the most deprived groups in society. Children in the most deprived parts of the country are more than twice as likely to be obese than those living in the least deprived areas.” 

Impact of obesity

Obesity, it makes clear, is associated with reduced life expectancy and a range of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver and respiratory disease and cancer. It can also have an impact on mental health. 

Mental health statistics themselves are alarming. In January 2021, the Children’s Commissioner in The State of Children’s Mental Health Services 2020/21 (tinyurl.com/we86m8mw), highlighted:

  • One in nine children aged 5–19 had a probable mental health disorder in 2017.
  • One in six children aged 5–19 had a probable mental health disorder in 2020. 
  • There was a 35% increase in referrals to children’s mental health services in 2019/20.
  • There was a 4% increase in the number of children receiving support from the NHS in 2019/20. 

Recent Education Policy Institute research (tinyurl.com/4yar8htc) states that “responding to children’s wellbeing and mental health needs has been an even greater focus for policymakers since 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic widening the gap between the number of young people who need support and available services”. 

Findings in its 2019 report (tinyurl.com/y32u9zs9) suggest that more than a quarter of referrals to specialist children’s mental health services were rejected in 2018/19. Nationally, the average median waiting time to begin treatment had fallen by 11 days since 2015 but children still waited an average of two months (56 days) to begin treatment in 2019 – double the government’s four-week target. The report concluded that the government was unlikely to meet its target of four weeks by 2022/23. 

As children’s referrals continue to rise, and if the government does not invest heavily now, it will face a much bigger challenge in years to come. 

Physical literacy 

Educating primary-aged children on the importance of being active for life is an investment in their long-term health and wellbeing, so a focus on a physical literacy ‘thread’ running through all aspects of the curriculum is key. However, many schools need help to realise this aim. 

The Youth Sport Trust (tinyurl.com/p5s2jc24) has developed a range of support material for primary schools, including how the Primary PE Sports Premium might be invested. Its recent blog ‘How sport can empower a generation to build a brighter tomorrow’ (tinyurl.com/zut8yfwv) provides next steps alongside research data that highlights the stark inequalities in how children and young people access sport and physical activity. It states, “Physical activity and PE help not only mental and physical health [but are also] proven to aid concentration, behaviour and academic achievement,” adding, “Active children are happier, more resilient and trusting of others.” 

Well Schools 

With an eye on the rise in childhood poverty and subsequent reduced life chances, Well Schools (tinyurl.com/em86xcwk) was launched in September 2020. The focus is on ensuring that children are equipped with the human skills and characteristics needed to thrive and achieve potential in employment and life, and with daily life, through positive physical and mental health. It provides support to schools to help them to put wellbeing at the heart of school life, with a free-to-access community. 

Investing in the health and wellbeing of our primary-aged children should be fundamental and never has it been so necessary. It is imperative the government takes action.

Further information

For more information on becoming a Well School, visit www.well-school.org or follow Twitter @well_schools

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary Specialist