IWD 2020: Promoting gender equality in the classroom


An article by David Lester, Group Learning Services Director
We know that we are facing a situation nationally and globally that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. ư

We know that:

– Cases of It are on the increase
– We don’t know how many people actually are living with It
– It’s difficult to get tested and get a formal diagnosis of It
– That the consequences of having It will go beyond the time we have It
– People are talking about and finally acknowledging It

The question is what It is? It could be CoVid-19 but the It I am really concerned about at the moment is Youth Mental Health. Even before the current crisis an increasing number of young people were struggling to attend school due to social anxiety and school refusal. I now wonder how many of the “grounded” and “level-headed” young people who, in normal times, are able to attend school on a day to day basis may struggle with such a significant change in their day to day lives. Most young people have finished school for three months or longer, they are dealing with change, learning to not see their friends, facing isolation and social distancing – we cannot overlook the potential effects of the

CoVid-19 pandemic on the mental health of our younger population. Learning and education comes in many forms and as far as I can see, it should not be just focused on academic learning. It has been encouraging for me to see a number of blog-posts of teachers who are still interacting with their students online, acknowledging their attendance and supporting their learning in these difficult times. Education, routine, a sense of purpose – when everything around them seems to be spiralling out of control

– will go a long way to keeping young people emotionally secure. Whether young people are or are not vulnerable, we need to know that they are safe and not walking the streets. We should not promote a culture of fear, but at the same time we are all aware of the predatory nature of some parts of the internet. And so the questions remain: – When those who are vulnerable need reassurance, where will they go?

– How do we consistently support the wellbeing of potentially anxious and vulnerable young people whilst they are not in school? As far as I can see it is not about standalone specialist interventions or the actions of amazing individual teachers and social workers, but all of us in the system having a role to play in mitigating the longer-term mental health impacts on the current cohort of young people in school, college and higher education. I don’t have all the answers, far from it.

What I do know is that the phrase “early intervention” is used a lot but in the case of potentially vulnerable young people we need to take action sooner rather than later; we need to pre-empt where possible and support where necessary. There is so much great work being done within the education, social care and health sectors at the moment but we know young people have slipped through the cracks in a normal day month or year. Through no fault of anyone those cracks will get wider and we need to work together to either fill them or to pick up the pieces when we inevitably need to.