More than 1500 teachers across England, Wales and Scotland have been consulted in a survey* by Unicef UK on their confidence and preparedness for the reopening of schools in the wake of school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools in England are currently projected to start a phased reopening on 1 June but these findings suggest that many teachers have concerns about pupil safety and well being when schools do reopen, with 54% of teachers saying they don’t have the resources to support children fully when they return. On mental health support, just one in five (19.5%) of teachers feel they have adequate mental health services in the school to meet the expected needs of returning pupils.
In the responses, teachers expressed their concerns for children. One teacher said they were “concerned about how children will cope emotionally and socially having spent so long in isolation away from friends and other children”. Another teacher said they were worried about “social distancing and the gap in the children’s understanding mixed with the need to support them with any fears and worries that they have.”
Confirming concerns for children’s well being in a separate survey**, more than two thirds (73%) of parents said they worry about their child’s mental health – with more than 1 in 4 (27 %) parents saying it’s a daily concern.
Anna Kettley, Unicef UK Director of Programmes said:
“Teachers are on the frontline of this crisis for children, and find themselves faced with an incredibly difficult and complex situation. They should be applauded for their ongoing commitment and dedication to children and families during this crisis.
“Efforts to get children back in the classroom must be done in the best interests of children and their rights. Our research shows that teachers are concerned about the mental and physical well being of their pupils and parents have grounds for these concerns.
“The Government must prioritise understanding and addressing the concerns and needs of teachers, as well as children and parents, and use this to shape their guidance and inform the final decision on schools reopening. Included in this, schools need extra mental health support as well as reassurance that they will not be penalised for prioritising pastoral care.”
Unicef UK has been delivering services and programmes in the UK for over 25 years reaching over 2 million children through its work – including its work with nearly 5,000 Rights Respecting Schools across the UK.
The charity is now calling for the Government to provide schools the space and support to take a whole-school approach to mental health and well being. This means providing clear guidance that empowers school leaders to focus on well being when schools reopen, recognising that this is important for enabling learning for all children, particularly those who have experienced challenges throughout the lockdown.
In addition to mental health concerns, teachers surveyed listed their priorities and concerns for the return of pupils to schools:
Keeping children and staff safe from coronavirus through social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment is a priority for 91% of teachers when schools reopen.
More than half (54 %) of teachers say that supporting children to return to school routines and expectations is a top priority.
53% of teachers say providing help for children who have suffered trauma or abuse during lockdown is one of their main priorities.
1 in 5 (20 %) of teachers polled say closing the attainment gap is their main priority when schools reopen.
More than half (54 %) of teachers said they do not have the financial resources needed to support pupils when schools reopen and over two thirds of teachers (69%) said they were not confident that they would receive the support they needed from either national or local government to meet the expected needs of children when they return to schools.
One teacher commented that for some children with learning and physical disabilities “trying to reinforce social distancing could be difficult. A number of new measures will need to be enforced and some children will need [support] to make them aware of the new situation.”
Unicef UK is calling on the Government to develop a comprehensive children’s recovery plan that outlines ongoing support for learners who may have fallen behind during school closures – including the nation’s most vulnerable children.
“Teachers will be at the forefront of this crisis when it comes to responding to many of the difficulties children have faced during lockdown, including poor nutrition, abuse or neglect, loss of learning and high levels of anxiety. Schools need to be resourced to support children across all these areas as a basis to returning to learning – to ensure the challenges faced today do not cast long shadows over their futures,” Kettley said.