Pupil Wellbeing in Lockdown: Mental Health, Confidence and Self-Esteem

Pupil wellbeing is high on everybody’s agenda, not least during the coronavirus pandemic.

But what is wellbeing? And how can we improve it?

We explore the role that schools, teachers, and parents can take in improving pupil wellbeing, and we even have a free wellbeing activity game for you to download at the end.

Schools

No soggy bottoms here! 

A well-crafted scone combines mathematics in the measures, motor skills in the folding, chemistry in the rising and fun in the eating! What a great way to extend pupil wellbeing from the primary school classroom to the home school setting. Even Mary Berry of Great British Bakeoff fame would be proud. 

Whether baking, singing, crafting, practicing mindfulness, exploring nature or improving one’s downward dog – all of these activities can be a bridge to wellbeing for children whose mental, physical and emotional health are challenged by current lockdown conditions.

That’s why Sing Education is bringing you this special feature on pupil wellbeing. Hopefully you’ll take away a clear understanding of wellbeing, including:

  • the key components of wellbeing
  • the roles that schools, parents and caretakers play
  • the importance of wellbeing with respect to pupil attainment
  • practical actions that encourage good mental health, self-esteem and confidence

 

What is Wellbeing? And What Impact Its Absence?

Home schooling can be tough. It’s difficult to concentrate, there’s emotional exhaustion, boredom, a lack of motivation and it’s really hard not going out to see friends. And that’s just the parents. BBC1

Generally speaking, wellbeing is a feeling of comfort, health and contentment, engendered when one’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc. are met. A more comprehensive and modern understanding of wellbeing also emphasises higher order needs such as belonging, relationship and self-esteem which also need to be satisfied for wellbeing to be present.

In the educational context, Government has identified specific goals and measures in this area through the Education and Inspections Act 2006. “[This legislation] places a duty on the governing bodies of maintained schools to promote pupils’ wellbeing. 

[Moreover,] The Children Act 2004 defines wellbeing as: physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution children make to society as well as social and economic wellbeing.2

That said, when considering school-aged children, a wellbeing deficiency can show up in a complex web of causes, contexts and interdependencies that are hard to untangle and solve. Specific issues such as hunger and food poverty, anxiety and depression, bullying and low esteem, self-harming and social isolation can combine to overwhelm basic educational objectives in the classroom, wreaking havoc with the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. 

Certain key measures only serve to highlight the current challenges to universal student wellbeing:

  • One in six children has suffered mental health issues during the pandemic, according to the Children’s Commissioner’s annual report.3
  • 90% of school leaders have reported an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress over the last five years.4
  • NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are overwhelmed. Currently, just one in four children with a diagnosable mental health problem gets access to the treatment and care that they need.5
A young boy sat looking through homework papers. He has a pencil in his hand and is wearing a dressing gown.

What Role for Schools and Parents?

“The mental health of our students is of paramount importance,” assistant head teacher of Bradon Forest School, Paul Dipple, said. “It is crucial that a school provides a strong platform for the mental health and wellbeing of their students all year round, we take pride in ensuring this at Bradon Forest.”6

Fortunately, the aforementioned statistics are not the last word on the subject of wellbeing. Schools, teachers, pastoral staff, PSCHE coordinators, SENCOs, parents and carers all have an integral – and integrated – function in the development of whole school, whole child wellbeing.

Across the country and in spite of the extraordinary hurdles created by the pandemic, schools are implementing a myriad of impactful techniques to meet their duty of care for student wellbeing. Measures such as frequent calls to check in with pupils, schools counselors on hand to work one-to-one with vulnerable children, positive values such kindness woven into the curriculum – interventions like these are more the norm than ever before. 

More creative solutions are also being adopted – and adapted – to the virtual classroom setting – for example, the introduction of the “feel-good box.” With this practice, students are encouraged to write something positive about another pupil each day. Teachers assign the names so everyone has an equal go at both writing and receiving. “Notes” are then handed out at the end of the week so pupils can read them, share with parents and carers or save them. 7

Gorse Hill Primary School Principal, Joanne Lewis, has said: “We believe that, particularly at this time, the mental health of our pupils and also our parent community should be taken as seriously as any other threat to their health and wellbeing. With the majority of pupils learning remotely, we’ve placed emphasis on making sure our class teachers can provide one-to-one feedback and support with their pupils.

We want every pupil to know that we are always here to discuss any problems they are facing, whether in person, in school, or online.” 8

Parents are more than pulling their weight as well – developing a variety of strategies to cope with the wellbeing strain caused by the pandemic. Some of these include: 

  • Being more vigilant for the signs of poor mental health
  • Supporting young people directly in their communities
  • Talking openly about the news and normalising feelings of stress, anxiety or fear
  • Keeping children connected where possible through virtual socialisation and extracurricular activities.

 

Samuel Robbins, who manages the Swindon and Wiltshire Mental Health Support Group online has said: “A mum spoke to me about her son who has been suffering, he was very lonely and didn’t have any friends.

“I offered to speak to him and give him support which I hope will work out and make him feel better.

“My eyes have been opened to the fact that children do suffer from mental health problems. It’s very different in adults. The signs and symptoms are different and children can hide it easier.”9

 

Bright Lights at the End of the Tunnel

“Supporting young people to build emotional resilience can help them to cope with and bounce back from adversity, and can ultimately help to prevent the development of mental health problems in later life.”10

We know what pupil wellbeing is, we understand the role of schools, staff and parents in encouraging and maintaining it. Now it’s time to look more closely at why it matters.

Research has comprehensively shown the positive link between pupil wellbeing and attainment at school. When students experience wellbeing, they perform better in school. And when students perform better in school, they experience greater wellbeing. In fact, this virtuous circle of inputs and outcomes was documented by Public Health England in their briefing paper, “The Link Between Pupil Health and Wellbeing and Attainment.”

Academic success has a strong positive impact on children’s subjective sense of how good they feel their lives are (life satisfaction) and is linked to higher levels of wellbeing in adulthood. In turn children’s overall level of wellbeing impacts on their behaviour and engagement in school and their ability to acquire academic competence in the first place.11

So let’s take a look at some best practices for schools and parents regarding how to build resilience, confidence, esteem and mental health among young students.

According to Sarah Griffiths who leads wellbeing initiatives at Caterham School, the first UK school to be awarded the ‘gold standard’ National Children’s Bureau Award for wellbeing, parents can do these five things to nurture wellbeing and good mental health:

  • Be cheerfully imperfect – The key thing here is to accept that the situation isn’t perfect, it’s hard work and give ourselves permission to be imperfect and smile through the inevitable glitches.
  • Control only what you can – A major contributor to our sense of wellbeing comes from knowing that we can control our environment and actions. When restrictions are needed to keep us all physically safe, it can take some readjustment to ensure agency. 
  • Find the joy – It’s not just ok to have fun, it’s vital! Our normal ‘go-tos’ may not be possible right now so focus on the simple things that we can do.
  • Brilliant basics such as eat, sleep, and get outside – Don’t underestimate the importance of these vital elements for wellbeing. 
  • Community connected – If you’re Zoomed-out, grab the phone and call up friends and family for a chat, you don’t always have to be on camera to stay connected.12

 

Schools themselves can actively partner with parents as they exercise their particularly unique duty of care by:

  • Having an ethos of setting high expectations of attainment for all pupils … including clear policies on behaviour and bullying
  • Working to provide interventions that mitigate the risk of mental health problems by supporting pupils to become more resilient and preventing problems before they arise
  • Putting in place continuing professional development for staff that informs them about the early signs of mental health problems, what is and isn’t a cause for concern, and what to do if they think they have spotted a developing problem13

 

“Growing up today seems to be harder than ever. Children and young people face a host of novel stressors that I cannot even purport to understand. In a confusing, addictive, 24-hour online world, young people need new tools and more support.” – Alexia Adrianopoulos, Philanthropist supporter of Wise Up

 

To learn more about Sing Education, including how our music provision, online instrumental lessons and at home learning resources promote pupil confidence, expression and wellbeing, please visit www.singeducation.co.uk/schools

For even more info, practical tips and guidance, click below to download your FREE A4 Printable Board Game “Roll the Die – 6 Fun Wellbeing Activities for Students

 

About Us

Founded in 2014 and serving more than 9,000 children each week, Sing Education is a first class provider of primary school music education. Focusing on high-quality, singing-led tuition, we deliver a complete solution for schools which includes teacher recruitment, training and management, bespoke curricular resources and educational consultancy services. 

Through music lessons, singing assemblies, choirs, after school clubs and instrumental tuition, Sing Education works with students from Nursery right through to Year 6. Our core philosophy is that “Every Child Has A Voice,” and, as educators active in the classroom, our directors and teachers know firsthand how much young learners benefit from exciting, rewarding music education. 

#SingEducation #MusicChangesLives

Sources:

  1. ‘Knackered and confused.’ That’s just the parents – BBC
  2. Pupil Wellbeing  – The School Bus
  3. Wise Up: Prioritising wellbeing in schools – Young Minds
  4. As above
  5. Adults voice concerns Children’s Mental Health Week begins – Swindon Advertiser
  6. As above
  7. Boosting pupils’ self-esteem – The Key 
  8. Adults voice concerns Children’s Mental Health Week begins – Swindon Advertiser
  9. As above
  10. Wise Up: Prioritising wellbeing in schools – Young Minds
  11. The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment – Public Health England
  12. Five simple steps to improve family wellbeing over lockdown from Caterham School – Surrey Live
  13. Boosting pupils’ self-esteem – The Key 
Primary school children singing and performing actions. The four children are sat on the floor wearing green jumpers.

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