A ‘FIGHTING’ fund has been set aside to help Bradford schoolchildren bounce back from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic - with one focus being on providing mental health support.

The plans will be discussed at a meeting of Bradford Council’s Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee next Wednesday. A report to councillors ahead of the meeting sets out the vital need to offer support to children and young people in what has been an unprecedented year due to the pandemic and lockdowns.

It says that it’s recognised that the “impact of the closure of schools will have undoubtedly had a negative impact on the learning for many children, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

It adds: “Non-disadvantaged children will also have also been negatively impacted by the closures. Whilst the post-Covid funding will naturally focus on the impact for disadvantaged children, aspects of this recovery process will benefit a wider group of children.”

The report highlights the need to support the mental health of young people. Earlier this month, Ilkley Grammar School (IGS) opened up on the challenges its pupils had faced and said: “We can confirm that like all schools IGS is seeing a significant increase in mental health issues due to Covid and lockdown.”

A report to Ilkley Town Council, which provided 5,000 in funding to pay for additional counselling to complement its existing in-school provision, said 32 boys had received counselling since the start of this calendar year from a not-for-profit company which works to address male health issues using gender sensitive approaches.

The Council’s children’s overview and scrutiny committee will be told: “Many children will have been impacted by the restrictions imposed during the lockdown period and sadly, some children may have experienced the death of family members during Covid-19. It is well documented that children will often use schools and adults in school as ‘safe spaces’ in which to explore their feelings. Therefore, specialist advice will need to be in place to support schools directly and indirectly to help children work through feelings. Disadvantaged children and families may need more targeted and specialist support.”

To address some of the problems which may arise, the report says the Education Covid Recovery Improvement programme has appointed a team of Education Therapeutic Officers (ETO) on 12-month contracts to deliver the “whole family therapeutic service”. All five have started their contracts and it’s expected the full programme will begin in January.

However, the report says: “The education led service offer, provided by the ETO team, is not a replacement for other support currently available.Children will still be able to access existing services including CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) school based services and the enhanced training that has been provided to schools with mental health champions.”

The report also highlights the need for “digital inclusion”.

It says: “In May 2020 the Government national roll out of devices to all children with a social worker and disadvantaged Year 10 pupils did not match the need across the Bradford district. The total allocation was 2,000 against just over 5,000 children, including care leavers, who have a social worker. Therefore, it was recognised that there was a gap in the provision of devices to support remote learning for vulnerable children and young people.”

The programme will help to bridge the gap. The Council says it has also committed £400,000, in addition to Opportunity Area funding, to improve outcomes at Key Stage 4 through the extension of tuition for GCSE Maths and English. The report says that £1.2 million additional capital funding has been committed by the Council to support post-Covid recovery for the provision of digital devices, while revenue funding of £715,000 has been identified to provide tuition programmes and the creation of the ETO team.