Schools closures risk ‘calamitous’ impact on children’s mental health, paediatricians warn

Schools must reopen as soon as possible to avoid a ‘calamitous’ impact on children’s mental health, paediatricians warn ministers

  • Experts warn children are experiencing anxiety, self harm and suicidal thoughts
  • Parents showing signs of emotional distress and breakdowns due to pressure
  • In the US, Las Vegas schools are reopening after 18 students took their own lives
  • For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, or click here for details 

The closure of schools could have a ‘calamitous’ impact on children’s mental health and must reopen as soon as posssible, paediatricians have warned ministers.

Ten of the UK’s top exerts in child health say anxiety, self harma nd suicidal thoughts have reached frightening levels among children.

Schools have been shut across the country since the start of England’s third national lockdown after 10 months of disruption brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to confirm this week that the Government has abandoned plans for a full-return to classrooms after the February half-term.

Instead a phased return could begin closer to Easter.

But concerns are growing over pupils’ mental health, with paediatricians writing in a letter in The Times today that lockdown could have a ‘calamitous impact on a generation of young people’.

Paediatricians have warned anxiety, depression and self-harm among children are at ‘frightening levels,’ as the struggle to cope with school closures and a lack of mental health support 

The letter, signed by the likes of Professor Claire Hogg, Dr Ian Balfour Lynn and Professor Sejal Saglani, adds: ‘As in the first lockdown, we are witnessing an acute and rapid increase in mental health and safeguarding cases affecting children and parents alike.

‘Anxiety, depression and self-harm are all at frightening levels. Parents are showing signs of psychological stress and even breakdown as a result of the pressures of trying to home-school their children and sustain their jobs and businesses.’

Schools in Las Vegas have decided to reopen after 18 students took their own lives during the months schools have been closed during lockdown.

The youngest student to die was nine-years-old.

Gavin Williamson, pictured on Monday, is said to favour a phased return to schools which could begin before Easter

Back in the UK, the initial focus on a return to classrooms is likely to be on the youngest primary pupils who are hardest to teach remotely, and on older children in exam years.

Options to allow a return to school in areas where the virus has declined most sharply could also be considered, although a national restart is favoured.

A source said Mr Williamson was pushing for a full return of all schools at the ‘earliest opportunity’, but added: ‘If there is a chance to get some classes back then obviously we would take it.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, suggested a phased reopening was likely.

‘Everybody is currently talking about the need to fully reopen schools as soon as possible, but what we actually need is a proper plan for doing so,’ he said.

‘The obvious solution is to widen opening in a careful and phased manner, perhaps through the use of rotas or prioritising certain year groups first of all, checking the impact on coronavirus rates as we go, and building gradually to full opening.’

Ofsted warned that many children are struggling to stay focused on their studies, with home learning ‘a poor replacement for normal classroom practice’. It said disruption is likely to continue for some time, even when schools return.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: ‘While remote education will help to mitigate the learning lost when children are out of the classroom, it’s clear that pupils’ motivation and engagement remains an issue.

‘This, along with the pressure remote learning places on teachers and parents, is proving a real barrier to children’s learning and development.’ 

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, or click here for details.  

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