On 26 June 2020, Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Education, answered a written question on loneliness amongst pupils in primary and secondary schools.
In her response, she pointed to Government guidance published to help children continue to learn at home, and the funding provided by Government to mental health charities throughout the coronavirus period. Vicky Ford MP also provided the contact details of various mental health charities to support students.
The full written answer can be read below:
Department for Education
26 June 2020
Sir John Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of social distancing on levels of loneliness among students in primary and secondary schools.
Vicky Ford: The department has been working closely with partners to provide resources and update guidance to support and promote children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes signposting to resources on supporting and promoting mental wellbeing among the list of resources to help children to learn at home, which are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources.
During Mental Health Awareness Week, the government announced that a further £4.2 million will be awarded to mental health charities – including the Samaritans, Young Minds, and Bipolar UK. This is in addition to the £5 million Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund, administered by Mind, for mental health charities to help them adapt, expand and reach those who are most vulnerable.
The return to school is a key part of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, as attendance at school allows social interaction with peers, carers and teachers, which benefits wellbeing. To support this, we have encouraged schools to focus on mental wellbeing as pupils return. Children in Reception, year 1 and year 6 are now able to return to primary, and year 10 and year 12 pupils are able to receive face-to-face support at secondary. Primaries with capacity can bring back additional groups, in line with existing protective measures, and we have given schools the flexibility to have face-to-face ‘check-ups’ with all pupils during the summer term, which will ensure more children and young people are able to achieve this benefit. Our intention is for all children to return to school from September and guidance will be published soon.
In addition, children and young people can access free confidential support anytime from government-backed voluntary and community sector organisations either by texting SHOUT to 85258, or by calling Childline on 0800 1111 or The Mix on 0808 808 4994. Children and young people can also find online information on COVID-19 and mental health on the Young Minds website, which is available here: https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/reports/coronavirus-impact-on-young-people-with-mental-health-needs.
Public Health England and Health Education England have also published advice and guidance for parents and professionals on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, which is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-supporting-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-and-wellbeing.
The department has also published statutory guidance which states that, as part of the new relationships and sex education and health education curriculum, primary and secondary school children should be taught about loneliness. This will include issues like building positive friendships and mental wellbeing. The department is developing a programme of support and resources to help schools teach the new requirements.