ITV News deputy political editor Anushka Asthana hears principals worried about another disrupted start to term
A principal warned of an exponential increase in mental health problems facing schoolchildren due to blockages, which left many of them unable to attend school.
Sean Maher, principal of the Richard Challoner school in New Malden, said it must now be a “national priority, where possible, to stop any further disruption in the lives of young people.
“I think they have been asked to sacrifice a lot and we cannot keep asking them to sacrifice more,” he told ITV News, saying young people need access to the classroom but also to extracurricular clubs such as sports, theater and dance.
Mr Maher said the result of the Covid pandemic had been less resilience among young people, more mental health issues and more self-harm.
“It is clear that incidents of mental health problems have increased exponentially”
“There is a direct correlation between the lockdown and this watered down provision during lockdown – so we don’t have to go back to it – we have to continue to allow our young children to develop and move forward,” he said. -he declares.
“I lead a mental health group of about 8,000 students in a number of schools and it is clear that incidents of mental health issues have increased exponentially.”
Mr Maher pointed to disturbing trends, including the discovery that some children “have lost the ability to socialize as they possibly had before”.
He also said distance learning led to lower results across the board, but widened the educational gap between more and less advantaged children.
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A continued period of back-to-school has helped the children renew friendships and build their resilience and confidence, he added.
However, Maher admitted that he and other principals faced serious challenges this term with the Omicron push, with seven staff already scheduled to self-isolate this week, with more chances of being tested positive.
“In our school we have just over 1,000 students – if we had eight to ten teachers on leave, about 10% of our enrollment, we would be in a position where we could not cover all of these classes individually,” he said. he declared. , arguing that they might consider “super blankets” where a teacher supervises 80 or 90 children working quietly in the room.
Mr Maher argued that it was always better than online courses.
He said government advice or information for schools tended to be “too little too late” – and with no extra money for substitute staff.
How do “super blankets” work to keep children in school?
Nadhim Zahawi’s plan to recruit former teachers into the classroom was laughed at, as he admitted there had been “no” offers.
“People leave for a reason – either they retire and are ready to rest, or they are tired of teaching. I don’t see these people wanting to come back.”
He said school leaders also have a responsibility for the well-being of their staff, and returning older and retired teachers to the classroom in the midst of a pandemic seemed risky.
Finally, he argued that Ofsted, who inspects schools, felt like “the elephant in the room” right now, as they couldn’t see schools in their best light when they tried to tone down. effects of Covid.
“How can it be reasonable that schools still have to worry about the Ofsted, looking over their shoulders all the time, when they have all these other things going on that they have to deal with,” he said. he declared.
“If I were secretary or secretary of state I would say” forget about Ofsted for at least another term and focus on what you are here to do, which is taking care of young people “.”
The unions have called on the government to clarify that schools and colleges that are due to undergo an Ofsted inspection in the next term can postpone it to allow teachers to focus on supporting students.
The government guidelines state: “While our responsibilities to children and youth remain, we recognize that there will be circumstances when it is not the right time for an inspection to take place. If providers have concerns about the timing of their inspection or visit, they should request a postponement. “