I personally took a major interest in mental health and the impact on learning a few years ago when it became clear that, for the majority of my pupils, learning was the last thing on their mind. More and more pupils were entering school with significant mental health issues and we were not in a position to support them effectively to enable the learning to take place.
We decided to educate both our staff and pupils about how to manage their mental health and over the past three years have done just that, introducing a mental health and wellbeing strand to our curriculum which is taught weekly from Nursery to Year 6, becoming the first school to be a therapeutic school and taking a strategic approach to developing wellbeing. Well being has become as important in our academy as academic learning and we are starting to see an impact in attainment and progress.
Lots of schools and academies have done the same- lots haven’t and have waited for the government to lead in this area. Whilst there is now a requirement for schools to support the mental health of their pupils for some they are a long way off doing this effectively.
These are the schools whose pupils will struggle during lockdown and for many this will only become apparent on their return to school. When people talk about the gap widening for some pupils during lockdown they are invariably talking about attainment gap and the impact on learning in terms of academic ability. I think there is another more pressing gap which will emerge- the gap between those pupils who are emotionally resilient and those who are not. Academic ability has nothing to do with this resilience- good mental health has. Those pupils who have been taught how to support their own mental health and wellbeing will be much better placed to deal with lockdown and the issues that arise. Emotional resilience is not something that can be taught online so whilst the arguments rage on as to whether teachers should be teaching using online lessons the real question ought to be whether children are coping mentally- never mind academically.
Whilst schools serving high % of disadvantaged children are being discussed in terms of how they will help their pupils catch up and the problems they will face on return to school, perhaps if we look at the positives- the fact that many of these schools have had higher levels of mental health support, because they have had to in order to enable children to learn, they will in fact be in a better place than others who perhaps have focused more on academic achievement?
The invisible gap may in fact be a benefit and close the gap of achievement.