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Continuing to use a data & trauma-informed approach to supporting learners in a post-COVID world

We wrote here last year about the authority-wide mental health and wellbeing survey we had undertaken which allowed us to better understand the needs of our learners as they returned from the first lockdown.

Following what turned out to be an even more unsettled year for the world in general and education in particular, we went back to our children, young people and their families to find out what the impact of further periods of remote learning and uncertainty had been.

What’s being reported

Over time, reported difficulties have increased

The sheer scale of the mental health difficulties being reported is simultaneously concerning but not surprising as the results that have been generated broadly reflect the types of issues we are being consulted about, and the increase in requests for our service to become involved (we dealt with double the number of requests in the past year compared to the year before).

When we look at the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) results for primary children, we are seeing:

  • the number reported as restless and overactive has more than doubled
  • twice as many children are reported as having ‘temper tantrums’
  • three times as many children are reported as having more worries
  • four times more children are reported as having lots of fears.

For secondary pupils,

  • 81% of parents feel their child has poor attention,
  • 72% report levels of distractibility and having many worries
  • 57% report physical symptoms such as headaches and tummy pains and
  • 50% as having lots of fears
  • 47% report ongoing ‘temper tantrums’ from their child
  • around 23% of our population have experienced the loss of someone close in the past year.

Note: secondary schools did not participate last year so we are not able to say how much these figures have changed in the past year.

The results for our youngest learners in our nurseries are more stable with similar reporting of strengths and difficulties as last year. Even so, the results continue to be much higher than national norms. The significant difference from last June has been a four fold increase in reports of children with ‘temper tantrums’ and four fold increase in children reported as restless or overactive.

Most parents are positive about the return to school

More positively, the hard work of education staff in supporting children in their return to school has been evidenced, with an average of:

  • 87.7% parents reporting their child has felt safe returning to school (pre-school 92%, primary 87%, secondary 84%),
  • 85.3% have received the emotional support they required (95% pre-school, 87% primary, 74% secondary)
  • 81.7% enjoying being back in school (97% pre-school, 83% primary, 65% secondary) and
  • 87% re-engaged with learning tasks (pre-school 99%, primary 88% and secondary 74%).

An adaptive and agile service response

So what now? While it would be easy to become disheartened and overwhelmed by the scale of the mental health issues that are apparent not only within our own local population, but also more widely, by continuing to focus on our locus of control and adapting our service to be as agile and responsive as we can, we have the best chance of supporting the needs of our population as we adapt to a post-COVID world.

For us, that means continuing to embed our trauma-informed Readiness for Learning approach which has a strong focus on regulation and relationships, within a transformation project that seeks to develop a whole systems approach to mental health for children, young people and their families. This includes developing a continuum of new mental health supports that include four new digital mental health services, as well as brand new face-to-face therapeutic services using the creative arts. We will be developing further online modules to support educator understanding of anxiety and how to support it (providing content in this way has meant that over 8000 hours of professional learning have been delivered to our staff since April 2020), and we recently launched a new ‘Directory of Support’ website that offers quick and easy access to a range of mental health information about a variety of common issues.

This work has once again underpinned the need for good quality, local data to be available in a timely way in order to better understand the needs of our local populations and, crucially, a flexible and adaptable model of service delivery so that we continue to meet the changing demands of the children and families that we serve.


Lesley and Liz have provided the overall average SDQ data for pre-school, primary and secondary pupils

There are also visual infographics that display this data for all groups:



About Lesley Taylor

Lesley is depute principal educational psychologist for Clackmannanshire Council and is also an Education Fellow of Dr Bruce Perry's ChildTrauma Academy. She has the lead responsibility for implementing the trauma-informed 'Readiness for Learning' (R4L) approach across the authority, as well as a number of projects within the Mental Health and Wellbeing in Clacks transformation project.

View all posts by Lesley Taylor

About Liz Owen

Liz Owen is an Educational Psychologist working for Clackmannanshire Council. Liz has worked in Fife, Stirling and Clackmannanshire building her knowledge, skills and experience of working with children and families. She has particular interests in positive psychology, organisational change, whole school nurturing approaches, restorative approaches and effective teaching and learning.

View all posts by Liz Owen



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