The role of virtual classrooms in providing adjustments for students struggling with their mental health

Mental health problems, such as anxiety, can inhibit someone’s ability to get to school and be physically present during lessons. Here, Sam Warnes, a former teacher and founder of EDLounge, a unique platform that gives students who struggle with mainstream education the opportunity to access learning, explains how virtual classrooms can offer a solution for accommodating pupils with mental health issues.

In order to help students effectively, we firstly need to educate ourselves on the elements of traditional and mainstream education that could be the most triggering for students struggling with their mental health. This helps us to address any problems they may have before they become completely disengaged so we can help them achieve their full potential.

If a child is struggling with anxiety, the classroom can seem overwhelming. That could be because a fear of large crowds is triggering for that student, or being called upon for an answer in front of their peers could cause them to panic. Others may fall into a deep depression and find it difficult to motivate themselves to leave the house on a daily basis. The less comfortable and confident they feel, the more likely they are to miss school and fall behind on their studies, leading to a pile-up of homework and a dangerous cycle of being too ill to work and falling behind, and then being given even more work to catch up on.

Understandably, this causes additional stress and we risk losing them completely to a downward spiral. At higher levels of education this can prevent them from achieving the grades they fully deserve, or even create resistance to pursue further education. In fact, new research from Childline shows that in the last year the number of young people seeking help due to exam results has skyrocketed. We must be proactive in creating solutions that allow children to stay in mainstream education but also offers them a comfortable and safe working environment. Keeping up-to-date with the latest in edtech and exploring alternative provisions is a good place to start.

How we can help:

Virtual classrooms and online learning platforms offer a safe space outside of the mainstream environment to access the curriculum at the student’s own time and pace, for example lesson times can be adjusted so the child can attend when they feel the most energised and able to learn. Online learning environments also allow tasks to be completed virtually, rather than in a physical classroom as that may trigger their anxieties. As a student’s wellbeing improves, they can use the online platform as pathway to reintegrate into mainstream or as a way to complement a conventional environment by simply reducing the days spent in school. They also have the security of knowing that even after they have reintegrated into mainstream education, the option is still there if they have a bad day and can't attend for any reason.

How virtual classrooms can offer a solution for accommodating pupils with mental health issues.

Jane Horsfield at Sheffield Inclusion Centre has been using EDLounge, an online learning platform, and EDVirtual, a virtual classroom that has live-streaming capabilities, for the last 18 months as part of the outreach work she has been doing to deliver lessons for children unable to attend school. 

She commented on her experience using these products, saying: “I found EDLounge and EDVirtual to be terrific tools in delivering any subject, any day of the week. The ability to set work individually for each child was incredibly valuable for addressing gaps in their knowledge and learning, and best of all it was something the children enjoyed!

“I have worked with a few students with mental health issues, and being able to access their learning without the need to leave home and face other people, or deal with travelling, has given them the opportunity to build confidence with the feedback and encouragement I am now able to give on an individual basis. This is really useful for students struggling with exam stress and we’re soon going to start using EDExams, which allows students to prepare for, and sit exams in functional skills. This will help us support children even more in reaching their potential.”

Online learning platforms and virtual classrooms also equip teachers with a unique insight into individual student performance, progression, and attendance. This means that if a student begins to show signs of disengagement, whether that’s by incomplete tasks or missing lessons, the teacher can spot the signs early and discreetly inform the education centre so that parents and carers receive support and guidance as well.

For teachers, this technology provides the added bonus of automated marking to ease workload. Everyone in the education ecosystem, from headteachers concerned about truancy, right through to teachers and parents who spot the warning signs, and of course the child, can benefit from an online approach.