How COVID Has Impacted On Pupils' Emotional Well-Being In Schools

How COVID Has Impacted On Pupils' Emotional Well-Being In Schools

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Since September, have you been surprised by the change in the emotional well-being - and classroom behaviour - of the kids in your class? Noticed less resilience, less ability to focus, fewer social skills and asked... is this just my class? Or my school?

To answer that question, we surveyed our community to assess the change of SEMH needs schools are seeing in their students. And in this episode, we share the results, revealing the true impact of COVID and lockdown... and the challenges we face supporting our pupils in 2022.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

A quote from one of the respondents I think sums it all up, which was we have a need to go right back to basics. We can't assume our kids have remembered our routines, remembered our expectations, remembered how to integrate successfully into school. We've got to go back and reteach everything. 

Hello, my name is Simon Currigan and welcome to episode 43 of the school behaviour secrets podcast. If this podcast were a Christmas present, it would sit in glittery paper under the tree, teasing you with its contents for weeks before Christmas day finally arrives. And you could tear off the paper with excitement and inside a handy booklet about supporting kids with their emotions and behaviour. You know, you specifically asked for a PlayStation five. It's the sort of thing you'd order for work. What's even the point of making a Christmas list? If no one even looks at it? I didn't even get that Peppa Pig mousemat I wanted. Well, that's another Christmas ruined. Thank you school behaviour secrets, calm breathing, calm breathing, calm breathing. Sorry, I just had to deal with a couple of personal issues there. This week's episode is a break from the norm. Because usually at this point, I turn to my co host Emma Shackleton and welcome her to the show to ask her a question. But she can't be here this week. She's trapped under something heavy. So it's a solo episode with just me. But this week, the questions I'm going to focus on relate to you our listeners, because a few weeks back, I asked our community how they felt Coronavirus and lockdown had affected the children they teach? How has it impacted on classroom behaviour and their people's emotional readiness to learn? And I'm going to reveal the results of that survey in just a moment. Before we get to those results, I have a quick favour to ask. Please share this episode with your friends and colleagues who might benefit from the information that we're about to share. And the good news is, it only takes 10 seconds just open up your podcast app, tap the Share button and your app will help you send a direct link using the communication platform of your choice. So it's time to grab ourselves a sump. Yes, I said sump head out to the fore deck and pump. The barnacle ridden bilge stacks of the brave little ship we call behaviour.

So before we get into the survey, I like to explain some of the ethos about it and why I'd like to present it to you today. Often as teachers or school leaders, we are stuck in a silo if you're a class teacher, you kind of stuck in your own four walls, you don't really get to experience what happens in other classrooms very much. Certainly not on a daily basis. If you're a school leader, you don't get to experience what happens in other schools very often you might get glimpses now and again, but you don't get kind of like the lived experience of other people. And we've got lots of teachers at the moment, lots of school leaders who are seeing significant needs with their kids following lockdown following Coronavirus. And they're asking how does our experience compare to the experience of other schools? I can sum this up, I can sum this up in a very quick story, I was asked to go into a school and offer some support for a group of children that were having difficulties. And I spoke to the head teacher. And we gave some advice on strategies and what was happening in school and on the way out. He took me to one side and he said, Simon, we're an excellent school who work really hard to provide an excellent standard of education and support for our children and our parents. And we're struggling, is it just us? And the answer is? No. It's not just them. They're a good school doing their best in a difficult situation. So my aim by sharing this survey is to lift the lid on lots of different types of schools and look at the shared experiences between teachers and school leaders. And that will give you some context to understand is my school doing well? Is my score doing poorly? Is my school about in the middle? Are other people experiencing what I am experiencing? To give you some context about what's happening on a bigger scale. To get this information. We didn't want you to rely on schools that we worked with or people that we knew because that's too small a sample. So we went out to our community of about 25,000 people on our Facebook group and who follow our Facebook page and who sign up to our email newsletter. And we asked them to compare the experiences of children coming into school now, compared to kids before COVID, before lockdown.

So let's have a look at the first question, which was, What behaviour changes, if any, have you noticed in your students since they've returned to school after the summer break? And far and above, the most popular answer for this was a teacher seeing higher levels of anxiety, children coming into school and just being anxious about the school experience. And what was interesting was, participants didn't just refer to the anxiety of children, they also referred to the anxiety of parents. And what they were noticing, and what they were reporting was these high levels of anxiety, especially in the younger children, was leading to higher incidents of separation anxiety at the classroom door. So children are much more reticent to leave their parents behind and come into school. And when you think about the amount of time that most kids have spent out home with their parents, and the protective environment of the home, that's really understandable. And the second knock on, which is also understandable, is more school refusal. And we've got to now dig into as things come back online. How do we support those kids move away from the anxiety? The kids that are refusing to come into school now, we've really got to dig into that, dig down into the underlying causes for that school refusal. And it's likely that we're going to need to support not just the children in isolation, but the families as a whole, because the anxiety exists beyond the child themselves. Participants also recorded that children were finding it hard to follow routines that teachers have taken for granted before, it's almost as if all those established rules and routines and expectations that we've taken for granted for years now been eroded significantly by 18 months of lockdown. And also an increase in low level behaviours in the classroom. Because when we talk about low level behaviours, things like constantly shouting out or running around the room or being on the tables, although we call them low level behaviours. Actually, if you're trying to manage those in the classroom, those are high stress behaviours for the adult, they're highly disruptive. So low level can be a really inappropriate label for those kinds of behaviours. And also, teachers reporting that kids are less able to accept boundaries, they're less able to accept the word no, or being directed to a task. And again, this kind of makes sense when you think about it, because kids have had a lot more freedom, a lot more agency and choice. And now they're being put back into an environment where they have fewer choices and have to  accept more adult demands. And they're struggling with that, because this is something that they're not used to having. Schools were also reporting more issues around emotional dysregulation, lower confidence, lower self esteem, lower resilience, and children having reduced social skills in all sorts of directions really, in terms of social skills with each other with their peers, but also, with adults, they were less able to use the skills that helped them develop reciprocal and meaningful relationships. They were just less able to do things like sharing in class or show empathy for other children. Yhere was a much greater need for adult attention. And the final thing that came up most commonly in the survey was children presenting with a lack of focus, and a lack of ability to retain their attention on a task for a significant amount of time. It's almost as if those skills, the social skills and the work skills have become rusty over time, because they haven't been used as consistently as they have when children have been to school every day of the week. And those skills have been embedded and taught and reinforced. 

I'd just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our Inner Circle programme. The Inner Circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos resources on behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety, support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. Practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole class, setting out your classroom environment for success, resetting behaviour with tricky classes and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions step by step, just like Netflix. You can turn an Inner Circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract Plus, you can now get your first seven days of Inner circle but just one pound. Get the behaviour answers that you've been looking for today with Inner Circle visit to And click on the Inner Circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. 

Another question we asked them was how have the needs of your students changed if at all, since your pupils have returned to school after the summer break? And given the answers that we've just spoken about for the previous question, you won't be surprised by the answers. So one of the biggest results that came out were children having a much higher need for adult support, adult attention, adult encouragement, because, of course, that goes hand in hand with lower resilience, and being less able to focus and being less less able to stick with a task. So children were needing much more time, either one to one or in small groups with adults to integrate successfully back into the classroom. And, of course, increased prevalence of mental health issues around anxiety, secondary schools reporting more issues around children presenting eating disorders in particular. And you know, that's a known way of trying to cope with an anxiety and also an increased need for adult nurture time out away from the class to talk about their worries, their insecurities, getting reassurance, real emotional support. And, of course, what's important about this is, we can try and pretend like the 18, last 18 months haven't happened. And we know it's important to get kids back into their learning, because that's what theyre at school for. And the more they learn, the more likely they are to be successful in life and experience good outcomes. But we've got a real group of children according to our survey here, that aren't emotionally ready to learn, or at least they're not as emotionally ready to learn as they have been in the past. And trying to ignore that is a recipe for failure. It's putting, you know, the emotional coach before the horse, we need to get our kids emotions, right. Because once they're calm and happy and confident, then they're going to learn easier, they're going to learn quicker, and they're going to have a better school experience.

Another thing that came out with a survey were, there were huge learning gaps between those who had had access to support at home with home learning. And those who didn't, there was a real divide between those who had access Well, first of all had access to the technology to enable them to learn over teams and learn over zoom. And, you know, had access to parents who could support them without learning when they were stuck or weren't quite sure what to do. And those who didn't have access to technology. We know in the first lockdown, we had lots and lots of kids who were trying to access online learning through mobile phones, which is almost impossible. We've also got issues around certain groups of parents capacity to support children with their learning. And that might be because they're busy trying to juggle their own jobs at home while supporting kids with home learning. There are groups of adults that have their own various to learning themselves. So in terms of their education, and their experience, just found it difficult to support their children. And that's led to a gulf between the children that did make progress with a home learning and kids that didn't. Also, especially in the younger year groups, there was reports of basic independent skills missing, right? So we're talking about things like here, like Tying shoelaces, being able to organise equipment for our task. And in the early years, our lack of toilet training. That's, that was reported as a particularly big issue in the earliest foundation stage children not being able to go to the toilet when they needed to just not being toilet trained, being sent into school in nappies. And while that necessarily isn't an indicator of hardship, and difficulty and neglect at home, I think what it does do is it highlights that these are children that would normally be toilet trained and supported through their early stages of development by their parents. And it tells us something about the state of mind of the parents who might have been suffering their own anxiety, their own problems, and haven't been able to support their kids through this. It's sort of like it's a symptom of another problem about what's been happening in our homes and the level of need and the level of support that's required in homes following lockdown and following Coronavirus. A quote from one of the respondents I think sums it all up, which was we have a need to go right back to basics. We can't assume our kids have remembered our routines remembered our expectations remembered how to integrate successfully into school. We've got to go back and reteach everything. 

The next question we asked was compared to your students from two years ago, on a scale of 1 to 10 How emotionally ready are your children to learn in your current classes? And over 50% of people said a lot less and 35% of respondents said less so you add those together. At 85% of teachers were saying their children were less or a lot less emotionally ready to learn than classes in the past. 

The next question we asked was in terms of managing the social, emotional and mental health needs of your pupils, what is the biggest challenge facing you and your school following lockdown? The number one answer was the amount of children who are presenting with additional needs, and our schools lack of resources and capacity to meet those needs. And that was kind of split into three separate areas, we've got a manpower, and certainly in the UK, over the last sort of three or four years, we've seen a reduction in the number of support staff in school, which means schools have been less able to put in place interventions to support kids with their emotions and their behaviour as well as their learning. Another area that was highlighted was simply time because people feel under pressure to get through a curriculum, we've had a period of time where we've been looking at a recovery curriculum, we've spent a lot of time talking about how kids feel, building a curriculum around them. But now it kind of feels like it's time. And this is partly coming from Ofsted and partly coming from politicians that we need to get the learning back on track. And we need to get the kids to where we want them to be, which is fair enough. But without building time into the curriculum to address those underlying barriers, the social, emotional or mental health needs, we're not going to get the kids to where they need to be. And then the third category was money because essentially, money pays for manpower, money pays for time, without boots on the ground supporting our kids through these difficulties, then we're going to find it very, very difficult to help our kids recover. I know not everything comes down to money, but money makes things happen. Another category of concern that came up was lack of external services to people able to come in and advice specialists on social emotional mental health needs specialists around learning specialist around children with autism specific needs. educational psychologists, the availability of information and support from external services, because of lockdown because of social distancing has been significantly affected. And now it appears there's almost like a full load of children needing support, and the services that schools rely on, aren't able to cope or meet that need. 

And another thing teachers said, which relates to the first point is we still have enormous pressure from SATs and Ofsted which makes it hard to give that time for emotional support. Or maybe another way of looking at that is teachers don't feel like they can justify giving that time for emotional support when they feel like they're supposed to be focusing on the learning. Another challenge that teachers identified was difficulty supporting parents to support their children. So they have parents who have gaps, their parents who have needs parents coming to them asking for support. And there's a gap there around the quantity of parents who have difficulties and the quantity of support available to fill that gap. 

Another thing that came up over and over and over were teachers who identified that they've got their own mental health needs. And they are asking, How do I manage my own needs, my own anxieties, my own worries, my own fears, while trying to support other children? And of course, there's that old, it's a cliche, but it's a cliche, because it's true, that I'll think about being you know, in an aeroplane, and they tell you, if the cabin decompresses, the masks will come down, then you have to fit your own safety mask first, before helping your child because if you try and put the safety mask on the child and you pass out, then you're no good to anyone. So you take care of yourself first. How do we give our teachers and teaching assistants and school leaders that kind of support? Where is their safety mask? How do we make sure that they're emotionally resilient and strong, so they have enough in the tank, if you like to help parents and children. And then the specific reteaching has been identified as a need of social skills and interpersonal skills. 

And then lastly, there were concerns about the perception of society as a whole who work outside schools, that everything is back to normal and it is very much not back to normal. We know certainly in the UK, that there are still high numbers of COVID cases. And although they may not be leading to as many hospitalizations and deaths before because schools are testing still testing twice weekly. If you're carrying the virus even if you're asymptomatic, you know you have to self isolate to protect the people around you and this is affecting staffing numbers in school. Schools have been scrambling trying to move staff around trying to stretch their staffing as far as possible to allow the kids to keep coming into school, which has made it difficult if you're just trying to cover the basic numbers of children coming into school, to provide anything beyond that provide specialist services and support for kids with special needs. 

And that's it. That's the end of our roundup of the results of our survey. And hopefully that gives you a bit of context. So now you're able to compare your experiences in the classroom how your kids are coming in through the door since September, two other classrooms across the country, you found this episode helpful, it would be incredibly kind, if you could spare just 30 seconds and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or whatever podcast app you use. That helps the algorithm notices and recommend the podcast to other listeners in future so you can get help and support as well. We're going to take a break now over Christmas. So now is the perfect time to subscribe. That way when we restart in January, your podcast app will automatically download the new episode so you don't miss it and send you a reminder, all you have to do is open your podcast app, click subscribe, and your phone will take care of the rest. It takes just 10 seconds. And finally I just like to say that this year, like the last has been tumultuous and it's left everyone feeling drained. So whether you celebrate Christmas or not, wherever you are in the world. I hope you get a couple of weeks to relax and enjoy some quality time with your family. Take care, recharge and I look forward to speaking to you again in the new year. Until the next episode of school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)