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Lockdown III: listening to our most important citizens

Lockdown III: listening to our most important citizens

As we enter our third week of UK lockdown, the media, politicians, teaching unions and parents have all had a say on the impact of school closures and remote learning. However, a voice often missing from the national debate is that of our young people. How is a third lockdown within a year impacting them? How does it feel to go to sleep looking forward to seeing friends in the morning, only to wake and discover that the adults have changed the plan overnight?

We can’t yet know the long-term impact of the past year on our youngest citizens. As adults busied themselves juggling new priorities, at first glance it may seem that young people quietly and rather brilliantly just ‘got on’ with adapting to the new normal. We have certainly seen signs of this at St Mary’s where students have adapted in many ways despite the limitations on their activities outside the home. From taking part in human rights symposiums to supporting their local communities, St Mary’s students are showing that they will make the best use of this time where they can.

But as adults we do need to be mindful of those who may find this time to be challenging and ensure that we listen closely enough to their concerns? Our youngest generation always impress me with their natural resilience. However, I am mindful that we should not take appearances at face value over the coming months.

Indicators from emerging research urge us to pay close attention. Early psychological studies in China on the impact of Covid-19 have reported increased depression and anxiety.  UK evidence suggests a similar trend, highlighting that teenagers in particular are feeling more anxious as a result of the pandemic.

Studies point to different mental health threats including loneliness, worries about missing school and general uncertainty. Some countries, such as New Zealand, have responded with a national wellbeing recovery framework focused on prevention and early intervention.

I believe they are right to be pro-active. Even in ‘normal times’ St Mary’s always places priority on pro-active support for mental health and wellbeing. Lockdown is certainly a time to double our efforts here and we are certainly not resting on our laurels.

Over the coming months we are committed to listening – with great care and attention – to really understand how our students are feeling. This includes:

  • Communicating. As Deputy Head for Pastoral Care, I am writing to students every week to share topical ideas, my own feelings and tips to support wellbeing. Heads of Year are also in touch with their year groups through weekly newsletters and assemblies ensuring that the usual cycle of their year group is maintained.  Reassuring. Our fully live remote learning provision brings reassurance, routine and familiarity to every day, which helps to keep girls connected, positive and learning.
  • Supporting. Girls have access to brilliant professional support from our experienced nurses and counselling team. Whether it is by a teams chat, a telephone call or an email the school’s pastoral team continues to help and support students and their families where necessary.
  • Checking-in. Tutors are using their daily contact with students to check-in on how they are feeling, and learning about the opportunities and challenges their form groups are encountering. Form time can also be an opportunity for them to explore different aspects of wellbeing and practical tips. From the importance of exercise and sleep to ‘how to make a penguin’ tutors are helping to support students in their many different locations in many different ways.
  • Knowing. By reminding staff, parents and students what anxiety can look like we know what signals to listen out for, to support and care for each other.

By listening to each other and working together, we will all emerge from these times stronger – looking forward to the future and brighter times ahead.

Please note: If any parents do have any have concerns or questions, I encourage you to contact your daughter’s class teacher or her Tutor in the first instance.

Ms Aodain Fleming

Deputy Head: Pastoral and Boarding

Additional resources

Research summary

Young Minds - Anxiety

Childline – Coping with Anxiety