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Schools staff witness increase in pupil anxiety, low self-esteem and depression

  • New figures released for Children’s Mental Health Week reveal the impact of the pandemic is still being felt in schools – with 95% of staff seeing an increase in anxiety levels among pupils
  • Few school staff (23%) felt they could regularly access specialist support for pupils who need it, and this is having a negative impact on school life, including pupils’ ability to engage in learning and staff wellbeing
  • Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week 2022 is themed around growth, as schools focus on recovery

February 4, 2022 – The vast majority of staff working in UK schools (95%) have witnessed increased levels of pupil anxiety since the start of the school year, in contrast to a normal autumn term before the pandemic. That’s according to a new poll of education professionals released today by children’s mental health charity Place2Be and school leaders’ union NAHT, ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week 2022.

The survey of 1,130 school leaders, teachers and other staff working in primary and secondary schools1, reveals the challenges they are still facing, even as some are suggesting that ‘the end of the pandemic is in sight’2.

Those surveyed have also seen an increased prevalence of other mental health issues among pupils this school year, with 86% noting an increase in low self-esteem, 76% in depression and 68% in sustained feelings of anger. For staff working in secondary schools, 72% have noticed an increase in self harm, 61% in suicidal thoughts, and 56% in eating difficulties among pupils.

Only 23% of staff said they had regularly3 been able to access specialist support for pupils with mental health needs, leaving a majority of children and young people struggling without access to the support they need.

School staff highlighted the wider impact on many aspects of school life. A large majority of school leaders and staff said it has negatively affected pupils’ ability to engage in learning (91%), pupils’ behaviour (87%), and pupils’ progress (86%).  There has also been an impact on teachers and staff themselves – with 91% noting a negative impact on staff workload and capacity, and 89% on staff wellbeing.

Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of Place2Be, said: “As society tries to regain a sense of normality after two challenging years, we must remember that school leaders and staff remain on the frontline,  coping with all the additional needs that pupils are bringing through their gates. We know that with the right embedded specialist support, schools can be a fantastic place to address issues early on and promote positive mental health. There has never been a more important time to ensure that schools, and therefore children, receive the support they deserve.”   

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The findings of this survey are truly shocking – but unfortunately, to anyone working in schools, they are not surprising. Our members consistently raise pupil mental health and wellbeing as one of their top priorities – they really are on the front line when it comes to identifying and supporting children and young people’s mental health needs.

“It’s crucial that when school staff identify a mental health need with a pupil they are able to get the specialist help that is required. But as our survey shows, very few school staff find they are able to access specialist support for pupils who need it in a timely way – and this is having a negative impact on pupils’ ability to engage in learning, as well as on school life and staffs’ own wellbeing.

“These shocking new stats should add real urgency to the call for additional resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of pupils. The government must ensure that every school has fully funded mental health support available for their pupils and it is essential that they increase the capacity of social care, health and other services to meet the growing demand and to reduce waiting times.”

Additional survey findings include:

  • Staff working in secondary schools reported a  marked increase in anxiety levels among their students, with 72% witnessing a substantial increase in anxiety (vs. 47% in primary)
  • 82% of surveyed staff said that increased mental health needs are also having a negative impact on school leaders’ wellbeing
  • 80% of surveyed staff said that increased mental health needs are having a negative impact on pupils’ attendance
  • For those that work in secondary schools, 50% felt that there has been a substantial negative impact on pupils’ attendance (vs 33% in primary)

Children’s Mental Health Week 2022 takes place on 7 – 13 February, and this year’s theme is ‘Growing Together’. Place2Be launched the first ever Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015 to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health. Now in its eighth year, the message of the week has never been more vital.

Children’s Mental Health Week is kindly supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery and The Beaverbrook Foundation.

1The survey was carried out online by Place2Be and NAHT. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18 – 26 January 2022. Total sample size was 1,130 professionals working in schools, including school leaders, teachers and support staff. The survey was sent to NAHT members, and school staff who have worked with or trained with Place2Be, as well as shared on social media.

Primary school figures are based on 533 responses, and secondary figures are based on 239 responses.

2David Nabarro, World Health Organisation special envoy on Covid-19, January 2022

3Either almost always or often

First published 04 February 2022