ASCL comment on State of the Nation report

Julie McCulloch, Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the Department for Education’s State of the Nation report.
“Children and young people are facing a tsunami of pressures which affect their health and wellbeing. During the lockdowns caused by the pandemic, routines and support mechanisms disappeared overnight. This has taken its toll on pupils’ mental health, heightening isolation and anxiety as well as other issues such as bereavement. The exam system, which is excessive in terms of the number of exams and the high stakes involved, is also likely to have a negative impact on wellbeing, as is the impact of online technology which exposes children to inappropriate and disturbing material. With rates of child poverty so high, it is unsurprising that the cost-of-living crisis and other inequalities are a great source of worry for young people.
“The government has not put anywhere near enough resources into dealing with these problems. Its online safety bill is still not enacted despite being under development for several years. Schools and colleges have been critically underfunded for many years, with an unfair burden placed on teachers to support children with complex needs that require specialist support. Local children’s mental health support services frequently have very long waiting lists before children can access the help they need. The exam system must be reformed to make it more proportionate and less reliant on a high pressure end-of-course exam factory, and the scourge of child poverty must be tackled, with an immediate step to extend the provision of free school meals to all pupils from families in receipt of Universal Credit.
“Significant investment, targeted towards the most vulnerable in society, is needed to avoid the mental health crisis and other issues affecting children and young people from getting worse.”