SOUTH Essex schools are seeing an "unprecedented demand" for mental health support amid fears student anxiety has ramped up after the Covid pandemic. 

Headteachers are reporting an increased use of counselling services in the build-up to GCSE and A-level exams, which begin next week. 

Some believe the pressures of exam time, combined with the stress caused by the pandemic, is causing the perfect storm. 

Year 13 students are among those under the most pressure, having never taken formal exams in the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many of their previous qualifications have come via teacher-assessed grades.

For many knuckling down for their papers, the stress is becoming too much.

Andrew Cooper, headteacher at Westcliff High School for Girls, said requests for wellbeing support had quadrupled at the school.

Echo: Headteacher Andrew CooperHeadteacher Andrew Cooper

He said: "The build up to exams is always a very stressful time and students facing exams this year have also had to navigate the challenges of the pandemic and remote learning. 

“We’ve seen an unprecedented demand on our pastoral services with exams, the pandemic and the return to school.”

He added: “We provide school counselling for those requiring one-to-one support and refer pupils to the mental health support team where necessary.”

Robin Bevan, headteacher of Southend High School for Boys, says he has also noticed an increase in pupils seeking mental health support.  

He said: “Until a few years ago we would have made the occasional referral to external services, we now have a fully booked full-time on-site counselling service and the benefits of an NHS-funded mental health support team.

“It is hard to tell whether this is a real increase or suppressed demand now coming in to the open.”

Katie Scarnell, principal of Greensward Academy for 11-18 year olds in Hockley, said the school was now employing two counsellors to deal with pupils’ mental health issues.   

She said: “Some students can find exam periods in school particularly difficult. 

“As a result of the pandemic and the fact that students have had their learning disrupted for the last few years some students are finding this even more challenging this year.”

Other heads in Southend are offering a more positive spin on the situation, arguing student stress does not need to be a hindrance.

Headteacher at the independent Thorpe Hall School for students aged 2-16, Stephen Duckitt, said while the pressure of exams had got the best of some, others were seeing the experience as a learning opportunity.

He said: “Unfortunately, their anxiety has been exacerbated by the pandemic and all the uncertainty that came with it.

"But, in many respects, I think the majority have been able to develop greater resilience.

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“There's a general feeling of relief I think that things are finally back to normal.

"Last year, their peers didn't have that opportunity, and I think many are actually glad to have the chance to finish the job and have their moment.”

He added: “Their lives will undoubtedly be filled with relentless pressure, so the pandemic generation has already gained valuable insight into managing it.”