“They smile a lot more and for me this is extremely important to see in young people. I see a real difference in their opinion of themselves. This course has allowed them to understand that life is difficult at the minute, but that with practical self-help strategies they can regain the qualities they had before the lockdown.”

Peter Thompson is the Senior Leader for Progression and Attainment at Hazelwood College in Newtownabbey. When the school reopened in September 2020 after closing its doors in March due to the pandemic staff were conscious that, although the lockdown had a detrimental impact on all student’s education, there were some pupils who had been more badly affected than others.

The lack of interaction with their peers and teachers led to high levels of anxiety and stress. This, along with falling behind academically due to the absence of face-to-face teaching, made the return to school a stressful and daunting experience for some of the young people.

Students identified as having a difficult experience during the first lockdown were offered a place on a six-week programme run by The Prince’s Trust called Reset, Restart, Rebuild. The course focused on wellbeing and mental health, it gave the pupils an opportunity to discuss their own experiences and develop useful coping strategies that would help them reengage with their education. It was funded by the Education Authority as part of their efforts to restart education following the first lockdown. Additional funding was provided by Active Belfast and L’Oreal.

There were sessions on anxiety, confidence, resilience, mindfulness and the importance of sleep. During the session on sleep 90 per cent of the pupils admitted that they were not getting enough each night, they were able to identify some of the reasons for this and things they can do to improve their sleep patterns.

Peter Thompson explains the impact of the programme:

“The students who engaged with the Prince's Trust course have benefitted greatly. It has enabled the pupils who were identified as most in need of pastoral support to reengage with school on a daily basis.

“We have seen an improved level of attendance from every one of the students involved. They have also said that the programme has enabled them to cope with the pressures of school and family life. Their levels of anxiety have decreased and more importantly they state that they are better equipped to deal with episodes of heightened anxiety.”

One of the pupils who took part in the programme commented:

“I found it really interesting, it made me reflect on my feelings. I felt more confident at the end of course because it gave me ideas of how to deal with different situations. The staff gave me a lot of support and no one judged me for what I wanted to say.”