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Hundreds of thousands of children refusing to return to school

The children of more than 440,000 parents across the UK could be refusing to return to school, it has emerged.

Teachers are being advised that specialist help is available for children struggling to cope with going back to school, as a poll has revealed that hundreds of thousands of children could refuse to go while others feel nervous, upset and scared.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Many children and parents feel anxious about returning to school, so it’s vital they can access support early. See, Hear, Respond is there to help families address challenges such as anxiety, so children can get back to the classroom, and on the road to a positive future.

“Lockdown has been especially hard for vulnerable children who are now facing not only an ‘attainment gap’ but also a ‘trauma gap’ compared to their classmates. BAME communities have been hardest hit by the virus and often have additional concerns about returning to school or work. Specially trained staff from Barnardo’s and other charities are available through our See, Hear, Respond service to support them, and I urge teachers to get in touch if any of their pupils are struggling,” he added.

Barnardo’s warns that:

- Almost a quarter of parents of children aged 18 and under surveyed (23%) say their children are nervous about going back to the classroom

- 4% say their children are refusing to return

- A tenth of parents surveyed by YouGov said their children were scared about it

- 5% said their children are upset about going back to school.

Barnardo’s says there is a ‘trauma gap’ between some pupils who may cope well returning to school and others who may have not been previously vulnerable but are now struggling to cope because of the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdown.


Barnardo’s is leading the England-wide See, Hear, Respond Partnership for teachers who notice any of their pupils experiencing difficulties. The initiative is funded by the Department for Education and was set up to support those who have become vulnerable throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The partnership includes Action for Children, The Children’s Society and 55 local charities.

See, Hear, Respond supports children and young people with anxiety disorders related to bullying, hate crime and racism, or anxiety in general. It provides support to all children, including those moving to secondary school, or who have had fixed term exclusions and may also need significant help.

Trained therapists work closely with children, parents or carers, and their school, to help them get back in the classroom. They can also do group work with classes or specific groups of children.

Action for Children’s See, Hear, Respond Operational Director Kate Isham said: “The pandemic has triggered fear and anxiety for parents and children on a worrying scale, with families telling us they are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain how to navigate the crisis.

“With so many in desperate need of guidance, the See, Hear, Respond service means our frontline staff can help families get back on their feet and tackle the unstable weeks and months ahead with the support they desperately need,” she concluded.

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