‘Covid-19 has caused psychological damage in primary school pupils’ – headteacher

A generation of primary school children face being ‘lost’ from the education system because of the harm Covid-19 has had on their lives.

That’s the conclusion of The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation in Warrington, which is working with schools across Liverpool City Region to tackle the impact the six-month lockdown has had on children as young as nine and ten.

The organisation, which was set up after the deaths of 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Johnathan Ball in the IRA bombing in Warrington town centre in March 1993, has been awarded £146,950 by the Steve Morgan Foundation from the Community Match Challenge Fund to help affected youngsters.

One of the schools taking part is The Trinity Catholic Primary School in Vauxhall, Liverpool, which worked with the Peace Foundation in 2019 to tackle problem behaviour in the playground.

Headteacher Rebecca Flynn said being away from school for six months during Covid-19 removed important structure from children’s lives.

She said she first noticed a problem a few weeks after pupils returned in September when the euphoria of seeing their friends began to wear off and some of them became disruptive.

“The behaviours the children are showing are a manifestation of their grief, their anxieties and their frustrations,” she said. 

“These heightened behaviours became much more apparent when Liverpool’s Covid rates started to rise uncontrollably. 

“Children became frightened as it seemed to hit Liverpool much harder this time around. This time they knew people who had tested positive, became very sick and died. These people were members of their family, neighbours, teachers and friends. It is/was very frightening for us as adults so to a child, their fears must be amplified 100-fold.

“During the first lockdown, like many schools around the country, we saw our safeguarding referrals increase and more evidence of children witnessing domestic abuse in homes.

“These children need an outlet for their fears, anger and bewilderment and, as school is a safe place, they feel safe in letting out their emotions. Sometimes their outlet can be inappropriate and that is where the Peace Foundation comes in.

“Throughout the lockdown many of our children only communicated with each other via online game platforms and when they got angry or upset with their friend they could just put their controller down and walk away. 

“They can’t do that now we are back at school.  If they get upset with a friend then they have to deal with it face-to-face and that’s so hard for them – communication skills have definitely regressed as a consequence of the lockdown.

“I am confident that this programme, which recognises that children have suffered trauma as a direct result of Covid, will be just as instrumental in supporting the children in finding a healthy way to express their fears and concerns – and it’s only when we have done that that we can really begin to recover.”

Peace Foundation chief executive Nick Taylor said they became aware of the problem when their field workers identified psychological issues in nine and ten-year-old children linked to the pandemic.

“This age is showing adverse behaviour and that behaviour is such that they could face exclusion from mainstream education without intervention,” he said. 

“Educational attainment was already a challenge across Liverpool City Region and the pandemic has exacerbated that. These are the children who rely on education to give them the structure and support they need. It’s not just education that they missed but their entire social and friendship structure as well.”

Nick said the impact of Covid-19 in primary school pupils has often been overlooked.  

“We’ve been talking about the effect of Covid-19 on teenagers going through their A-Levels or GCSEs but we’re missing the impact in the lower age groups,” he said. “We’re finding a high level of fear and uncertainty. 

“It’s in the inner cities and hard-to-reach areas that we’re finding the impact is at its worst. The children lost the stability that education provided during the pandemic.”

He said the £146,950 grant from the Steve Morgan Foundation will fund their two-year ‘Steps for Peace’ programme. Initially it will focus on Liverpool City Region but could be expanded across the North West.

“We need to identify the most critically affected schools to find out which schools are hurting the most,” said Nick. 

“Our ‘Steps for Peace’ programme will look at how youngsters are handling things like friendships, compassion and the family dynamics.

“We’ll then identify these youngsters at most risk and at that stage we’ll look at working on a one-to-one basis. We may need some family intervention.

“The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation is 25 years old and this is one of the biggest developments in our history. It’s for organisations like ours to get stuck in. Our future generations depend on getting this right.”

Steve Morgan, founder of the Steve Morgan Foundation, said: “Covid-19 represents a mental health timebomb and I’ve been extremely concerned about the impact of the pandemic on young people. 

“We’re long-term supporters of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation and I’m really worried about the devastating impact of Covid on pupils of primary school age. 

“Without intervention they could be the lost  generation and we can’t allow that to happen.”

The Steve Morgan Foundation has been tasked with allocating the £20m Community Match Challenge Fund.

The fund consists of £10m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and £10m in match-funding by Steve Morgan.

The £10m from the DCMS came from a new £85m Community Match Challenge Fund and is part of the Government’s £750m support package for charities.

Any school wanting to get involved in the ‘Steps for Peace’  programme should email nick.taylor@peace-foundation.org.uk


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