Published on
10 August 2020

A new report by Barnardo’s NI has revealed that teachers in Northern Ireland are concerned about the long-lasting impact of Covid-19 on children’s mental health and wellbeing. 

The report, ‘New Term, New Challenges, New Opportunities’, is based on a recent survey of 167 education professionals across Northern Ireland carried out by the children’s charity. The survey asked respondents for their views on the impact of lockdown, the return to school, and opportunities for change. It aimed to find out more about schools’ experiences of supporting pupils during the pandemic, and respondents’ thoughts and concerns about the return to the classroom - including the challenges that schools are facing and what help they will need to support the mental health and wellbeing of pupils as they return for the new school year.

New Term New Challenges New Opportunities

Julie Healy, Head of Programmes at Barnardo’s NI, said:

“Most schools in Northern Ireland have been closed since March, with the vast majority of children learning at home, isolated from teachers, friends and a life they knew. With the new term on the horizon, schools are preparing to continue their learning in a changed environment and we must act on this opportunity to put children’s mental health at the heart of education.

“Barnardo’s NI is a leading provider of schools-based support, reaching more than 25,000 children in schools across the UK and Ireland through our NI-managed social and emotional literacy programmes. We have long promoted a ‘whole school approach’ to promoting wellbeing, which places the child at the centre. This approach will be so important in supporting emotional health and wellbeing as pupils begin to return to school.

“For many children, school is their lifeline, their safe space, and going back to school will offer vital support. We believe the return to school cannot focus solely on academic achievement, especially given what we know about the importance of mental health and wellbeing to children’s ability to learn.

“Schools cannot take on this challenge alone though, and support and guidance from our Government will be crucial.

“Based on the findings of our survey, we’re calling for the mental health and wellbeing of pupils to be prioritised in the recovery curriculum. We’d also like to see clear, child-centred guidance developed in consultation with schools, and increased investment for mental health support in schools. This is a real opportunity to improve outcomes for children.”

The survey carried out by the local charity revealed:

  • Nearly 90% of respondents thought that the pandemic was likely to have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of pupils
  • More than 80% of respondents indicated a need for increased funding to support mental health and wellbeing
  • The majority of respondents said they would be prioritising mental health and wellbeing on the return to school 

Garry Matthewson Principal of Holy Family Primary School in Derry/Londonderry, said:

“We really won’t know the full extent of the damage that has been caused, until we have every child back to school and have the opportunity to re-establish, reconnect and develop those relationships again. That will be the real challenge. We know that for some children, this pandemic has been immensely difficult and we are very keen to get them all back to school safely.”

Barnardo’s NI also asked the education professionals about their plans for the return to the classroom, their priorities and what changes they are anticipating:

  • Nearly all respondents (96.1%) said they anticipated changes to the way their school will operate when pupils return
  • 70.6% highlighted mental health and wellbeing, and social and emotional learning, as one of their top priorities

To read the full ‘New Term, New Challenges, New Opportunities’ report click here.