Future terms: Preparing pupils for their new normal
Watch the second of our Future Terms online panel series, exploring how schools can best help pupils return safely and supportively.
This panel session aired on 11 June 2020. Watch the full recording below.
- Graihagh Crashaw - Director of School Leadership, Teach First
- Natalie Brookshaw - Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown
- Marie Gentles - Co-Director, Magic Behaviour Management
- Jenny Griffiths - Education Research Specialist, Teach First
- William Thompson - Principal, Brittons Academy
- 0:03 - Graihagh introduction
- 5:20 - Jenny Griffiths opening statements
- 10:40 - Marie Gentles opening statements
- 17:21 - Natalie Brookshaw opening statements
- 23:59 - William Thompson opening statements
- 33:23 - Question: How will the focus on resocialisation affect curricular completion? Does one aspect go against the other?
- 39:33 - Question: How can we support students who feel they are behind academically, especially those who have struggled to complete work during lockdown?
- 42:16 - Question: Is there a case for restarting the academic year?
- 45:34 - Question: How would you advise the ways in which teachers and school leaders communicate with students before coming back?
- 48:29 - Question: How can schools prepare to create a positive culture for BAME students and staff?
- 51:35 - Question: Has the new normal made you question the current education system? What would you change?
- 56:35 - Question: How do we improve parental engagement and help parents overcome their fear of the virus?
Returning to the routines and expectations of school will be challenging for many pupils, especially those with little or no structured learning during lockdown. This discussion explored how can we help them to re-establish their routines and what strategies could support the most vulnerable learners.
For many children, school is their safety net. At Brittons Academy in Essex for example, there has been huge concern over pupil access to food, with staff delivering food parcels regardless of pupil premium. Furthermore, the panel expressed how trauma at home, bereavement, or the loss of routine can have significant effects on a child's mental health. With this in mind, it is crucial that we remove expectations on pupils to immediately resume normal learning.
Instead, the panel highlighted the need to increase focus on socialisation and reinduction. Pupils have not been able to actively connect with their teachers, mingle with peers or engage in school culture. As a result, they have lost a vital sense of belonging. To rebuild this, schools need to create highly structured environments, incorporating consistent routines and reinduction programmes. Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, for example, are planning a week-long reinduction programme, including sessions on how to enter classrooms and be kind to one another. However, the panel debated on the need for strategy alongside culture to ensure specific challenges are met.
Resocialisation and curricular completion needn't be seen as separate things. The panel positioned that it’s important for teachers to form secure attachments with students. Establishing strong relationships helps them feel safe, later giving them room to learn and develop (reducing their cognitive load). Given the vulnerable position of some students, this is vital. This communication can further help teachers to identify specific problem areas, improving learning outcomes. What’s more, the social dynamics of a school setting are beneficial to learning: both teachers and peers play a big role in building intrinsic motivation in pupils, pushing them towards academic achievement.
As schools reopen, the panel discussed staff reaching out to the most vulnerable children and re-establishing school culture in advance. It was noted that different communities will have different ways of communication, such as email, social media, or flyers. It’s important that school leaders invest time in assessing this when planning. We shouldn’t be worried about children not being engaged when they get back to school - children want to be connected, and many will want the chance to do so with their school. Additionally, it was recommended that staff receive a supportive induction 1-3 days before they return to school.
The panel also emphasised that when school resumes, teachers need to be very conscious about their language. If a particular child hasn't had the same access to learning as their peers, terms like "catching up" should be avoided. A language of reassurance must be adopted over a language of deficit. This should be reflected in a school culture that isn’t overly focused on assessment.
The panel didn’t agree with the idea of restarting the academic year. 'Starting again' is not a positive message, and could serve to demotivate children and cause significant damage. Instead, they emphasised the need to go forward with the current curriculum, increasing focus on pupils' wellbeing and reinduction. Nurturing a child's attachments and school experience can massively support their academic learning. Experience at Magic Behaviour Management revealed children who were up to four years behind their peers catching up significantly within a 20-week period following this principle. Invest in developing the whole child (not just their exam grades), and schools will naturally see a positive impact on learning.
In order to create a positive culture for BAME students and staff, schools need to be transparent and open. Whatever the channels of communication, it is important not to ignore issues of racism and put them to the side out of discomfort. Brittons Academy, for example, are reviewing history lessons, and encouraging pupils to articulate their views. Students need to learn that they have a voice, and school is a safe space to use it. Importantly, the panel expressed that white teachers and school leaders need to listen to what black students and staff are thinking. It is vital that those at executive level are listening to black voices and making concrete, actionable steps towards change.
Despite schools reopening, parents are still tentative about sending their children back. At Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, only 30% of children in Early Years and Year 1 returned to school last week. However, thanks to outreach efforts, this number is predicted to rise to 50%. The panel emphasised the importance of clear communication with parents, including letters, video conferences, home visits and Q&A sessions. The more communication, the more trust that is established. From this you can create a snowball effect in the belief that children will be successful, safe and better off in school.
To close, the panel stated that this is an opportunity to work together with communities and understand them better. Through the experience of lockdown, schools have arranged outreach efforts (such as home visits and wellbeing calls), establishing strong connections and vital understanding of their pupils' home lives. If we can support communities further, it can help support students better. We need to consider the relationship between attachment and attainment. We need to brace ourselves for the start of term, which will be a difficult time for students who deserve better. And we must appreciate that teachers are nothing short of amazing - the education sector has a duty to boost the profession in order to give teachers the respect they deserve.
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