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Pupils in the pandemic - our journey to psychological recovery

27 August 2020 | by Guest

This guest post comes from Tom Milson, Head Teacher of Eagle House School (Bramley) a Therapeutic Community for pupils aged 5-14 years with ASD alongside significant social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

Going back to school this year will feel more daunting than ever for our young people as they settle into a new academic year following one of the most uncertain and challenging periods of our time.

As our pupils across the UK begin to return to school the House of Commons Education Committeei has already acknowledged the immense pressure teachers are now under to maintain the standard of education, whilst ensuring students are caught up on lost learning.

With a highly pressurised curriculum and a focus on maintaining our examination standards it is natural to want to jump straight into intensive catch-up work as soon as possible.

However, we know from previous studies that quarantine has a traumatising effect on a significant number of young people and their familiesii, and negative psychological effects can include confusion, anger, and even the emergence of post-traumatic stress symptomsiii

The Department for Education, with the launch of the Wellbeing for Education Return Grant, clearly highlighted the need to:

“...support pupils and students’ wellbeing and psychosocial recovery as they return to full-time education this autumn’iv.

However, this is an investment of £8 million in comparison to the £1 billion of funding allocated by the DfE to support catch-up programmesv, and fails to recognise that psychological wellbeing and psychosocial recovery is an essential first step before supporting an accelerated learning programme.

Putting in place a rigorous catch-up programme will be fruitless if we haven’t enabled our pupils to process their journey through the virus.

The psychological benefit of time spent engaging in reflective discussion, or even structured play activity for our younger pupils, will far outweigh the lesson time required, enabling them time to process their experiences.

We must also acknowledge how uncertain our world is at the present time. With advice changing daily I have found it essential to share with my pupils the information we do know, whilst acknowledging there are some things we still do not.

Already I’ve seen posts from teachers and parents in Scotland who have experienced a sense of euphoria as they have returned to school, and although this is natural following a period of such uncertainty, teachers must avoid promising that things are now back to normal or that the situation is now over.

With over 41,000 deaths now in the UKvi, reporting alone will have an impact on the mental wellbeing of many young people.

Many of our pupils will know someone who has died during the crisis and some young people may lose someone close to them in the coming months.

The sheer number of deaths is unfathomable at this time and we must support our young people through the grieving process, and many organisations, such as Cruse and the Anna Freud Centre, have developed specific resourcesvii, viii to support schools to do this.

One phrase that’s stood out for me is during the crisis is the title of a seminar held by the Freud Museum earlier this year: “This too, shall pass”.

We know Covid-19 will abate, but it has not done so yet. And so we must reflect with our young people, acknowledging that we are still on the journey of psychological recovery, before we overload their days with booster classes and catch-up tuition.

- Tom Milson


i House of Commons Education Committee. (2020). Getting the grades they’ve earned; Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades. London: House of Commons.


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