The Education Policy Institute has called for a £650m post-pandemic wellbeing package for schools in its recently published study on the mental health and wellbeing of young people, highlighting how this has been negatively impacted during the pandemic.
One of seven strong policy recommendations, I was particularly struck by the call for a wellbeing funding package to match academic catch-up funding. The report argues that the government's current policy focus on academic catch-up will not succeed unless there is an equal focus on remedial wellbeing work alongside investment in socio-emotional development interventions.
The number of children with a probable mental illness has increased to one in six through the pandemic, and it is highly likely that a substantial number suffering with their mental health either fail to meet current diagnostic thresholds or are hidden beneath the severely overstretched and underfunded radar. Leaving aside pandemic-related stress, the authors make clear how known drivers of poor mental and emotional health, including financial insecurity and limited social support, have been exacerbated by the lockdowns and school closures.
The report is a stark read and a compelling call for immediate government action. As I read through its pages, the words of an American judge kept sounding in my mind. Speaking in favour of giving medical treatment to a profoundly vulnerable child (while others argued that "nature" should be allowed to take its course) the judge said, simply and powerfully, that a test of any civilised society must surely be its concern with the survival and flourishing of its weakest and most vulnerable members - a reversal of Darwin's famous formulation.
"the experience of the pandemic is likely to continue to exacerbate existing mental health and wellbeing problems among young people"