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Back to School After Half Term: Why the Education System Is Crucial for Our Children’s Development

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With the half-term holidays drawing to a close and schools due to open again next Monday, many families are preparing for the second half of term amid the ongoing pandemic. Psychotherapist Noel McDermott has over 25 years experience in this field. Here he looks at the reasons we should be supporting and celebrating our educational systems during the pandemic.

Noel comments: ‘If one thing has become clear during the pandemic it’s that school isn’t just about education. Schools are at the heart of our society, not only are they places of learning, but they are providing our children with care, support, and friendship. We must keep our schools, our colleges, and our universities open for the sake of our kids here and now and for their future. Investing in the future in this way makes sense of the challenges we are all facing.’

War Child, a charity dealing with children in crisis-stricken areas of the world states: ‘Education provides physical and psychosocial protection that can save and sustain lives.’   

The challenge of COVID-19 on the school system

All our children are in a crisis-stricken area of the world currently and we are lucky we have an education system that has adapted to it and teachers courageous enough, despite alarmist reporting, to work in it. We rightly celebrate our frontline health and social care workers facing the sharp end of COVID-19 infections, but we should also celebrate our educators for ensuring education has continued. COVID-19 will continue to challenge the education system, but by supporting our educators we are aiding children and young people’s emotional and mental health, minimising the longer-term impacts on their educational and developmental progression.

The pandemic has taught us all a valuable lesson in what is actually important and what is not. Education and educators (teachers, lecturers, SEN teams, assistants, care staff, administrators, and so on) contribute directly to the physical and psychological safety of our children.

Ten reasons we should be celebrating our educational systems during the pandemic

  • Psychologically and socially, school, college, and university provide opportunities for development, growth, and change. Developmental opportunities are necessary for normal healthy growth and when they do not exist, problems will occur either immediately or later in life around mental illness, anti-social behaviour, substance misuse, etc
  • A healthy diet – schools provide free school meals and make sure children stay hydrated, hungry/thirsty kids can’t think and can’t learn. The recent issues around extending free school meals highlight the important role of nutrition in our education system
  • Peer environments in schools, colleges and universities allow safe spaces for young people to offload and get support from psychological distress both from the pandemic and other issues
  • Help with eating disorders – schools and colleges are often the early warning signs of problems around food such as disordered eating, ensuring kids and young people get treatment early
  • During the lockdown, when schools were closed, the biggest fear amongst childcare professionals was the lack of referrals to services that protect and enhance the welfare of kids. Children don’t self-refer, they need kind, conscientious adults to spot their distress and ensure they are supported into help
  • Providing purpose and meaning, both central needs of human beings, we need to know we are connected to something bigger than ourselves. For children, this is in their friendships and fun and meaningful activities, most of which in our culture revolves around school or college
  • The education system allows parents to function, the childcare and respite are much needed at this point in time as many of us struggle with the profound changes to our lives
  • Education futureproofs children and young people, giving them the actual intellectual skills and qualifications needed to open employment doors later in life
  • Educational environments allow our children to develop support networks and learn to work in a complex social environment. These are exactly the skills needed to be able to work and live in our societies and economies
  • Watching our kids thrive and grow during challenging times allows us to make sense of this situation as adults and parents. It means we don’t go under because our future, our kids, are doing well and can have a future. Any struggle in the here and now is okay as long as we have hope that our future will be bright, and our kids are our future, they are our hope

Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education, with a range of online therapy resources to help clients.

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