Published on
28 August 2020

Children will need significant emotional support as they return to school, Barnardo’s says, as a poll for the leading national children’s charity suggests hundreds of thousands of children could refuse to go while others feel nervous, upset and scared.

The new poll suggests that the children of more than 440,000 parents across the UK could be refusing to return to school. (See note 1 below)

Almost a quarter of GB parents of children aged 18 and under surveyed (23%) say their children are nervous about going back to the classroom, and 4% say their children are refusing to return.

A tenth of the 1,000 parents surveyed by YouGov said their children were scared about it and 5% said their children are upset about going back to school.

Barnardo’s says it is vital for all schools to be allowed to have a “readjustment period” of at least a term where teachers can prioritise staff and pupil wellbeing, instead of being back to ‘business as usual’ from day one. 

The charity also says the Government must ensure schools have the tools, skills and resources to support children and give a higher priority to their mental health and wellbeing in the longer-term.

Barnardo’s is calling on teachers to talk to their pupils about how they are feeling and what they need to make their return to school easier. To help with this the UK’s leading children’s charity has produced two booklets of wellbeing exercises to help children reflect on life during lockdown.

There may also be children who need additional support from Barnardo’s See, Hear, Respond partnership which brings together all the people required to help a child or young person return to school to identify the practical and emotional support they need.

Covid-19 outbreak, as well as side effects of the measures to contain it, have exposed the country’s children and young people to an unprecedented level of trauma, loss and adversity.

Some children and young people will have experienced domestic abuse, poverty or child abuse for the first time. Others will be grieving for loved ones, and we know the virus has disproportionately affected BAME communities.

Some children will be fearful of catching the virus and others will be experiencing separation anxiety after spending so much time at home with their family.

The Barnardo’s pamphlets are useful resources to help teachers work with their pupils on how they are feeling, managing change, and changes to their routine and relationships. Both are available to download from the Barnardo’s website.

Barnardo’s See, Hear, Respond (SHR) programme, funded by the Department for Education, and delivered in partnership with more than 70 national and local charities, is aimed at children and young people in England who may have become vulnerable because of coronavirus.

It supports them with issues around bullying, hate crime and racism or anxiety. It also works with children moving into secondary school, or who have been excluded or suspended, and who may also need significant help. 

Trained therapists work closely with children, parents or carers, and their school, to help them get back in the classroom.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:

“Returning to school for the first time in months will undoubtedly be nerve-wracking for many children, their parents and their teachers. 

“The pandemic and lockdown have been hugely traumatic for young people - separation from friends, anxiety about the virus and financial pressures at home have taken a serious toll on their mental health.

“It’s vital that children go back to the classroom, but with so much continued uncertainty about the virus, it’s natural that some will be fearful - above and beyond the usual first-day jitters.

“The Government must now work with schools to reassure children and their families that schools are safe - otherwise some pupils may simply not return. Messages also need to be culturally sensitive, reflecting the heightened concern amongst BAME communities, who have been hardest hit by COVID. When classes do begin, teachers must be supported to focus on mental health and wellbeing, so children can address feelings of trauma, bereavement and anxiety, and readjust to being in the classroom. 

“Lockdown has been especially hard for vulnerable children who are now facing not only an ‘attainment gap’ but also a ‘trauma gap’ compared to their classmates. Barnardo’s specially trained staff are available through our See, Hear, Respond service to support them, and I urge teachers and parents to get in touch.”

Any teacher, child, young person, parent or carer can call the support line on 08001 577015 to request help.

Professionals can refer children and young people at www.barnardos.org.uk/see-hear-respond

Children, young people, carers and parents can find support at www.barnardos.org.uk/c19

Appendix 1 – Back to school coping strategies from Barnardo’s (taken from the booklets available to download from the Barnardo’s website)

For primary school children

Ask them to write down some words about how they are feeling and either draw or write what their face looks like
- Ask them whether their feeling is comfortable, uncomfortable, a bit of both
- Ask them to explain why they think they feel this way
Remind them it is okay to feel all feelings. There is no such thing as a bad feeling.

Tell them if they are feeling sad, angry, worried or frustrated they can take steps to calm down.
-      Ask them to write down some things that make them feel calm

Talk to them about some of the things that have changed because of the pandemic like not being able to hug and keeping a safe distance
-      Ask them to list which ones are in their control and which ones are not

For secondary school children

Ask them to keep a monthly mood tracker to see how they are feeling in the morning and evening of each day.
- Remind them all feelings are okay but if they notice a pattern of low mood it can be helpful to talk to someone about it

Ask them to write down their go-to strategies for when they are feeling stressed.

Ask them to write down what they do, or how they feel, when they are at their best.
-      Remind them if they are not feeling at their best they could talk to someone they trust and see if they could help make a change.

Notes to editors

(Note 1) According to data published by the Office for National Statistics, there were an estimated 11,040,000 parents where a child is aged 5 to 18 in the UK in 2018. In YouGov’s survey of parents for Barnardo’s 4% of respondents to a question about how their child is feeling about returning to school selected ‘refusing to return’.

To reach the figure of ‘more than 440,000 parents who say their children are refusing to go back to school’ we have calculated 4% of the 11,040,000 parents, which is 441,600.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4230 adults of which 1003 are parents of children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st July - 4th August 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).