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Ross asks about mental health first aid training as schools prepare for reopening

By Alan Hendry

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North MSP Gail Ross has highlighted the importance of pupils’ mental health ahead of the planned reopening of schools in August.

She was speaking at a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament's education and skills committee.

Answering questions from the committee were Scotland's education secretary John Swinney and Councillor Stephen McCabe, children and young people spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Mrs Ross, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, explained that parents in her constituency had contacted her about the reopening of schools and had raised concerns about how the return to education would affect their children’s mental health.

Mrs Ross asked: “How will these parents access help and support should they wish to? How are teachers and all the staff going to deal with these challenges? And will the Scottish Government consider the introduction of mental health first aid training?"

Mr Swinney replied: “Young people will have had a significant period away from formal schooling. There will be anxieties about coming back into schooling. Some of those young people may have had very difficult experiences during the period of lockdown and some of them may have suffered bereavement and loss as well.

“I acknowledge the very keen interest of members of school staff to wish to be able to support pupils in all that they do with their learning and to enable them to be in a position to overcome any issues that they may face, and if that involves access to mental health first aid training then I’m very happy to consider that.”

Councillor McCabe said: "Children are not going back to the same environment they left, and you cannot simply expect them to pick up a normal curriculum from day one. There needs to be a focus on their health and wellbeing and that will be a key part of that people call ‘the recovery curriculum'.

"Their health and wellbeing will be a primary focus in those early days. I think the suggestion of mental health first aid training is absolutely a good suggestion.”

Subject to the continued suppression of the virus, and to surveillance and mitigation being in place, schools in Scotland will reopen from August 11.

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