‘Wellbeing is a hip term to merely disguise the dreadful state of mental health and impact on physical health’

‘WELLBEING’ is a term used by all sides in the Covid debate. It has been rolled out so many times it has lost much of its gravitas. Yet, the pandemic has created a tsunami of mental-health issues that are queuing up to be addressed.

nThe cancellation of exams has removed one major stress
nThe cancellation of exams has removed one major stress

Deputy Kevin Pamplin stated: ‘We need to lift the lid up and look at what’s happening.’ Education Minister Jeremy Maçon has revealed that the demand for mental-health resources such as CAMHS has increased over the past five years, exacerbated by the pandemic, and stated: ‘The Government of Jersey is investing in a wider range of services, from early-intervention support through to crisis and out-of-hours care.’

Some psychologists describe anxiety/stress as a leaky bucket. It can fill up but it also dissipates over time. Problems can be added by the ladle or by the teaspoon. If the rate of filling is greater than the leakage then the person will reach crisis point.

Most staff and pupils in schools have been unsettled by events but some have been traumatised. Pupils have stressed over examinations, losing ground, missing friends, going back to school, catching the disease and much more. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) is not the preserve of adults in war zones and is very much about ladling into that stress bucket.

Yet, despite all the trauma of the last 12 months, school management is intent on continuing with targeting results. Staff are still being subjected to intrusive micro-management. Many teachers and ancillary staff have bitten the bullet for the greater good. And this is how they are repaid.

‘Wellbeing is a hip term to merely disguise the dreadful state of mental health and impact on physical health. I should love my job. I hate it. The atmosphere is cut-throat. Departments are criticised in front of others, our marking is pulled to pieces. Ordinary decent people passionate about their jobs are being pushed to the brink.’ (Stressed teacher).

The cancellation of exams has removed one major stress, especially for students in Years 11 and 13. But changing from examination to coursework assessment adds another ladleful of stress. The offer of ‘catch-up’ for pupils that have fallen behind has to be delivered, but by whom?

Stressed-out teachers in their free time? There is talk of reducing/removing summer holidays and having lessons on a weekend. Assuming the pupils will bother to turn up, will teachers be coerced into helping? Is adding extra hours to the school year going to help pupils with their wellbeing? The offer of £1.3 million for pupils to catch-up is designed to ‘help’ those that have fallen behind. But will it?

The pandemic has shown that children do like school, in some cases, in preference to home. For most, getting an education is secondary to meeting up with friends.

Schools offer that most elusive of needs in today’s society, a sense of belonging. It would stand to reason, therefore, that once back at school, the environment should be one that is empathetic, easing everyone back in so that they can settle. Just let them be.

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, said recently that there was: ‘an epidemic of demotivation’ and that ‘extensions to schooling will work well only if they don’t feel like a punishment… children need time with their grandparents, with their friends, to get out of the house and enjoy themselves again. These are things that will help them learn well in school…we need to work with the grain… this is about schools and colleges making intelligent choices, not just cramming everything in.’

Once the damage is done, it is hard to effect a cure, especially where mental health is concerned. Little could have been done about the pandemic but much can be done regarding its effects on people’s wellbeing.

Now that we are hopefully entering a post-pandemic phase remedial action is required. Yes, put in support, but conditions of service, in school, in class, are as much of an issue as the pandemic. Deal with these and the States will go a long way to alleviating mental-health issues both now and in the future.

The effects of Covid-19 are going to be around for a few years yet, so why the rush to get things ‘back to normal’?

It is recognised that the present results-led ideology is no longer fit for purpose. Many schools in the UK private sector are developing their own coursework-based curricula. So why not Jersey?

More stress? Maybe, but stress of a different sort, one that motivates positively. There is a growing clamour for Jersey to be more educationally independent. The 2022 election is only a year away and reform of our education system should be high on every candidate’s agenda.

By Colin Lever

For more comment and opinion pieces, see today's Jersey Evening Post.

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