How Yorkshire schools have stepped up efforts to help young people’s mental health in the classroom

Many children have been the hidden victims of the coronavirus pandemic, with further pressures on their mental health since returning to school within the ‘new normal’. The number of schools in England sending home groups of pupils because of Covid-19 incidents is also on the rise.

With this in mind, schools across the region have opened up about challenges of coping with increased anxiety from pupils and innovative initiatives put in place – from yoga classes to green schemes and “trauma awareness,” to help with student’s well being.

Richmond School and Sixth Form College, a community comprehensive on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, has implemented a mental health trained pastoral manager for each year group, a family support worker, who is also bereavement counsellor and an open “trauma awareness” policy to encourage teachers and pupils to talk more confidently about the anxieties and concerns they feel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Head teacher Jenna Potter, told The Yorkshire Post: “Due to coronavirus I would say students have missed their normal day. They’ve missed the normal day of learning, they’ve missed their socialising, they’ve missed their normal friendships and all of the things that go with being a teenager or young person.

Mrs Potter, who has been in the post since January 2018, added: “We’ve very much turned our return to school about being trauma aware rather than trauma led – we’ve made a very big point for staff to use language that is solution focused and positive rather than falling into a trap of using language of deficit – such as talking about learning gaps and and catch-up.

“We know these are a reality but language plays a crucial role in well being for students.”

Elsewhere, the importance of physical activity has been increased with modified physical education classes in place, including year 7 and year 9 bringing in their own tennis ball and timing device, with a focus on exercising for “yourself,” and more time for pupils to be in the “fresh air.”

“We’ve made a big thing about the need to keep PE going in as close a way as we used to – we’ve got a slightly amended provision – but they are still doing active PE every lesson,” Mrs Potter said.

New safety measures across the North Yorkshire school have also helped ease anxieties for students will all classrooms rearranged to ensure desks now face forward and sanitation stations in place where students will wash their hands to limit the potential spread of the virus. There is also reduced movement of pupils around schools, with classes and year groups staying in their “bubble” with designated zones.