Over half of UK parents (58%) are reporting an ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns on the mental health of their children, according to new research by the UK’s largest outdoor education provider PGL. One in five parents (22%) say that this impact is significant.
Three years on from the first UK lockdowns, two in five parents (40%) report that their children are experiencing anxiety or other mental health challenges. Three quarters of the teachers surveyed (76%) also reported that pupils are experiencing ongoing anxiety or mental health challenges.
The research, commissioned by PGL to mark the launch of REACH, a major redesign of its educational programmes, surveyed 1,000 parents and 500 teachers of primary and secondary school age children nationwide.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had, and continues to have, on our children’s development – in terms of their confidence, independence and general wellbeing” says Anthony Jones CEO of PGL Group.
Konnie Huq, children’s author, screenwriter and former Blue Peter presenter, recognises this challenge: “The ongoing impact of the pandemic on children is a bit of a worry. So many young people have missed out on many important life experiences at a crucial time in their development. It’s the softer, interpersonal skills that have suffered especially as they spend so much time on screens now so having experiences like these are really valuable.”
Confidence, independence and resilience
Around a third of parents say that their children are not confident meeting new people (37%) or believe that the pandemic has affected their confidence (32%). One in five (21%) say that they feel their children are more dependent on them as a result.
“Our children’s mental health is a major national challenge” Jones continues “but thankfully, there are soft skills we can teach, that will help them to become more resilient in life. We need to balance academic education with opportunities for learning life skills outside the classroom, especially outdoors where we see confidence and resilience grow.”
The same research also asked teachers and parents about the perceived educational or developmental benefits of residential outdoor learning experiences, such as PGL. The majority of teachers say that these experiences are a good way to improve children’s confidence (80%), mental health (75%) and independence (74%). It’s no coincidence that a similar number of teachers (91%) have themselves benefitted from residential outdoor learning experiences. They cite improved confidence (80%) resilience (63%) and interpersonal skills (62%) as the lifelong benefits their pupils receive from such experiences.
“It is vital for a child’s development” said one year 8 teacher, “providing social opportunities, challenging pupils, working as part of a team, building confidence, resilience and independence.”
Parents agree, with half of those whose children have been on a trip saying that the experience has improved the confidence of their children (51%) and just under half saying they have seen the benefit on mental health (46%) and improved interpersonal skills (46%).
Huq comments: “My son’s first experience of staying away from home without parents was a big step for him. To do it with friends and teachers in such a fun environment is great for any child, let alone those who have never been away on their own. Activities like zip wiring and kayaking can be a once in a life-time opportunity. They provide amazing memories and moments to cherish as well as being great for character building. The kids also had money to spend in the shop, they independently made their own beds and organised themselves to do all manner of team building activities.”
“Before he went, he was adamant he wouldn’t last the week and that I would have to come early and pick him up!! He can be shy, but after he completed the week he was really proud of himself. It gave him an amazing sense of achievement.”
The REACH framework
PGL’s new education framework, REACH, is designed to help teachers to choose a structured activity plan that will have the greatest learning benefit to the development of the children they teach, including the issues that parents are most concerned about.
REACH is informed by research into the different learning outcomes that teachers want to see at the different stages of a child’s development. Teamwork, trying new experiences and independence were seen as most important for primary school children, while secondary teachers placed a greater emphasis on advanced communication skills, confidence well-being and resilience.
“Outdoor adventures provide children with new experiences and vital skills for life that you just can’t get in other learning environments” Jones continues. “The REACH education framework is a step change within our sector, designed to support teachers to unlock these opportunities at every stage of a child’s development.”
“It’s a fantastic experience that all pupils should experience at least once a year” said one senior Year 9 teacher at a large multi academy trust, speaking about PGL, “You get to see them push themselves out of their comfort zones when they are outside the classroom.”
A tailored programme
Teachers opting for PGL experiences will be encouraged to share what learning outcomes they are hoping to achieve for their pupils from the residential trip, so they can then choose the programme best structured to deliver against those desired outcomes. Each plan is also adapted to suit different age groups.
“There should be no one size fits all approach, and this is reflected in the learning outcomes sought from the trip” says Jones. “Children need these learning opportunities at every age, but the complexity of life skills that children need changes as they get older. The teamwork or resilience you want to see in year 5 or 6 is different from the level of teamwork or resilience needed by children in years 10 or 11 and therefore we reflect that in the experiences we provide.”
Should a teacher wish to focus on teamwork, for example UNITE! Activities focus on building relationships by working together to achieve goals. For early years this might involve essential teamwork skills, such as showing kindness, while older pupils might be challenged to develop advanced communication skills, such as establishing trust by climbing a Jacob’s Ladder. THRIVE!, a programme of activities that encourage positive health, mental health and wellbeing, progresses from keeping calm and eating well in YR3 to skills for managing stress and time away from technology in YR9. PGL has also expanded PIONEER!, its current offer for children in years 3 and 4.
A balanced education
“It is important that pupils have a variety of experiences during their time at school and that schools aren’t just all exam focused.” said a year 8 teacher at a local authority secondary. “It is vital for a child’s development: providing social opportunities, challenging pupils, working as part of a team, building confidence and resilience.”
“Not all classrooms have four walls,” PGL CEO Anthony Jones continues, “Outdoor adventures provide children with new experiences they just can’t get anywhere else. They shouldn’t just be something that happens at the end of year 6. That’s why we’ve designed a new education framework to support these opportunities for learning outside the classroom at every age.”
PGL’s new education framework REACH launches in Summer 2023 and will be available to all schools booking PGL adventure camps from summer 2023. PGL family adventures and kid’s camps can also be booked directly by parents at www.pgl.co.uk