This week, more than ever, the nation’s restlessness with lockdown has been in the news. There are calls for Boris Johnson to explain his plans for the easing of lockdown and Gavin Williamson is exploring phased returns for schools when the time is right. Even though normality may be a long way away, leaders and teachers have to begin to prepare for this now so that schools can best support their staff and children. You would think the loss in learning time should be the first priority for any school, but there are other considerations to make before you focus on curriculum gaps (an approach to this will be discussed in a later blog). Here are a few things that need to be considered in the early planning stages for a return to school.
Things aren’t Normal
In this difficult time, most schools have been open and delivering a much needed service. Teachers have been planning activities and attending school and leaders have been relentless in directing and supporting their staff. This will have taken its toll. When we return to school, leaders and teachers must be prepared to accept and act on the fact that things aren’t normal and won’t be for some time.
Leaders: Make sure all staff have a key person they can talk to about their experiences, probably a member of SLT. Put CPD on hold and use staff meeting time to share experiences and pull together as a team. Also, use SLT time to plan a temporary wellbeing curriculum that will meet the needs of the children as they return.
Teachers: Don’t plan for normal lessons until you know your class are ready. Instead, allow plenty of time for children to talk about their experiences and fears. The key priority will be the children’s wellbeing, so design activities that can explore how they are feeling allowing them to realise that talking about this event is OK.
There is a strong possibility that members of our school community will have suffered loss during the period of lockdown. Leaders and teachers must be ready to deal with this when we return.
Leaders: Make sure, by speaking to your staff, you are aware of who has suffered loss and who will need extra support when we return to work. Begin to find high quality resources for dealing with loss with the staff in staff meetings and the children during lesson time. Also, enlist the support of Educational Psychologists to support you in getting this right.
Teachers: Begin to source resources that you know will be well received by your class as a whole. Many children’s charity websites have resources and lesson plans for dealing with loss and bereavement. Also be very clear which individuals have suffered loss whilst we’ve you’ve been apart as they will probably need 1:1 time and additional support.
Catching up on lost learning cannot happen until the school’s expectations are back in place. During lockdown, children will have had differing experiences. Some children have continued to come to school, some have been taught consistently at home and others will have had less structure. The first priority will be reminding children of the school’s rules, expectations and routines. Continual practice and relentless consistency is the only way you can get these things back. Dedicate assemblies and class time to practicing school rules and make sure every member of staff positively models and reinforces these expectations
Children will return to school from a variety of scenarios and we need to work hard to understand whether any children need support. Domestic abuse cases have risen during lockdown, so we need to be vigilant about children who may have experienced this. Also, being at home will have allowed our children to be online more so we have to plan in ways to explore online abuse and online bullying.
Leaders: Ensure your staff’s safeguarding training is up to date ready for the return to school. There are many online refresher courses that can be completed and ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ is always a good place to start. Also, consider contacting your Local Safeguarding Team for an update on your cohorts. You don’t have to wait for them to ring you if you want to plan ahead to support your children.
Teachers: Be hyper vigilant and remember how to spot signs of abuse. Also, remember how we should respond should a child disclose something. Your school’s designated safeguarding lead is the best person to speak to about any concerns you may have. Consider increasing the amount of lessons that tackle online abuse and bullying so that children can spot these signs.
Even when schools re-open, normality will be a long way off. Initially Focussing on the social, emotional and mental health needs of our staff and children will be the only way we can navigate the long road to normality.