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Mental health envoy Dr Alex George calls for flexible school returns

Schools should be flexible about the return of students coping with anxiety after lockdown, says the government's new youth mental health ambassador.

Recently appointed to the role, Dr Alex George said that schools should give pupils "a bit of time to integrate slowly back in the classroom."

"As children are integrated back to schools, we need to be a little bit more flexible about the time of transitioning back," George told BBC's Newscast podcast.

"You can't just expect... someone who is very anxious to go back to school will go back to normal.

"It might be that... rather than chucking them in and exacerbating the problem, we do it gently and we gradually build up to normality."

George was appointed to his role after campaigning to speak with prime minister Boris Johnson about improvements that could be made to youth mental health services.

In his new role, George is tasked with assessing the types of services currently available to young people in education, and providing guidance to the government on what needs to change.

The mental health ambassador also suggested that anxious children should be allowed to take days off for their mental health, saying that doing so could help children perform better in the classroom.

Dr Mary Bousted, National Education Union joint general secretary, agreed with George's suggestion, telling BBC News that "the transition back to school must be managed carefully in order to support both pupil and staff well-being.

"We must make children's mental health and well-being a priority for how we adapt and shape education in the transition back to school and for the future after the pandemic."

Improving youth mental health services has long been an aim of the current UK government.

In 2017, it introduced the 'Transforming children and young people's mental health' green paper which outlined several suggestions to enhance support for young people.

Suggestions included appointing a designated mental health lead in every school and college, and trialling a 4-week waiting time for accessing NHS youth mental health services.

In September, the Wellbeing for Education Return programme was launched, aimed at improving mental health support for children and staff return to school after lockdown.

Protecting the mental health of young people is also a core objective for the Welsh government, which last week announced an extra £9.4 million funding for youth mental health services.

Children are not expected to return to school before 8th March.


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