Children’s mental health improved after return to school, Oxford University study finds

  Children’s mental health improved after they returned to school, an Oxford University study has found.  

The emotional difficulties experienced by primary school pupils during the first lockdown began to improve from the end of July and grew “steadily better” when children returned to school in September, according to researchers.

“Our findings highlight the challenges that children and families faced during the first lockdown when most children were not able to attend school,” said Prof Cathy Creswell who co-led the study.

“We are pleased to see that things have generally improved for study families since the pressures of home learning have reduced, but our findings raise concerns about the impact of the ongoing disruption to schooling that many children are dealing with.”

Prof Creswell, an expert in developmental clinical psychology at Oxford University, said it is too early to tell the impact of the November lockdown, but added that “children being able to attend school could make all the difference”.

Over 12,000 parents were asked about their children’s behaviour during and after lockdown. Their responses were analysed by a team of psychologists at Oxford University who are investigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on young people’s mental health.  

Researchers found that primary school children’s behaviour has got worse under the first national lockdown with a rise in temper tantrums and arguments.  

They also noted an increase in restlessness among youngsters and failing to do what they were told by adults during the national shutdown from March until June.  

But when home-schooling wound down at the end of July, children’s behaviour and ability to pay attention generally improved.  

"The improvements started in July and it got steadily better over summer and then through return to schools,” according to Dr Simona Skripkauskaite, one of the study’s researchers.

Prof Gordon Harold, an expert in the psychology of education and mental health at Cambridge  University said the research highlights the importance of school for children’s mental health.

“One of the most significant and under-reported impacts on children, adolescents, families and society is the adverse effects that school closures have had on young people directly, and society generally,” he said.  

“Schools provide an immensely important forum for children and young people and are an essential component of society’s infrastructure in promoting positive mental health, providing support and resources for those with additional educational needs and protecting young people and society from poor mental health outcomes and adverse impacts on long-term life chances.”

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