With the wider return to school in September following the lengthy coronavirus lockdown, has come an array of responses to government guidance for schools. Changes to rules and routines have taken place in just about every setting and children and young people are valiantly adapting where possible.
It seems that for many, things are going well. The school experience may not be what it was, but the profession is doing an incredible job at nurturing children through the additional handwashing, sanitising, distancing and classroom ventilation required to keep this dangerous virus at bay.
For many children, the change has been apparently seamless. Day to day life continues, they get to play with their friends again, and school work is taking place face to face rather than online, albeit in rows and in increasingly chilly classrooms.
For some children, however, the changes have been disorientating and disconcerting. Barney Angliss, consultant in special educational needs and disability, feels that some of the changes that have been a necessary part of measures to prevent the free transmission of SARs-CoV-2 have some unintended consequences that we should perhaps consider in the light of helping all children to thrive at school. Angliss explains, “The changing environment during COVID affects the way we communicate in school so that everyone feels slightly less free to talk and much less free to move or to use body language and facial expression; at the same time, our heightened alertness makes us want to interact more, to connect and orientate ourselves for reassurance. This see-saw effect between holding in and reaching out, being closed yet wishing to be open, is most challenging for those who have communication and interaction needs including deaf and visually impaired young people who are directly impacted by the new systems and by masks. Autistic learners may find rules novel and interesting but seeing other people flexing the rules or changing them in response to government advice becomes a red flag. We need to rethink the way we maintain communication with each of our young people so they receive at least some of the good feelings which they need in order to believe that they 'belong'.”
Making sure that all children and young people in our care are nurtured through these changes is essential. If some are left behind, through an inability to belong in the new regime, issues may develop that negatively impact their ability to thrive at school.
Angela* has a son who has struggled with full-time attendance at school. “He has been anxious in the past about going to school and all these major changes have been so challenging for him. We are asking a lot of our children right now. My son was only just getting used to school routines as they were before the lockdown. Then he had to adapt to learning at home, and now schools are open again and we are back to where we were this time last year. I just wonder whether we are aware enough that children’s development in these really unusual times might not be linear. I have to persevere with my son in getting him back into the classroom on a regular basis and small steps can mean big progress.”
What can we do as schools to check in and make sure that everyone in our care is making the transition to a post-lockdown COVID-19 aware school environment as happily as possible? Even those children with an appearance of contentment at life in the new regime may be experiencing discontent. These strategies may help:
- We cannot make promises of safety in such an uncertain situation. But we can reinforce our intentions to our school communities and continue to develop a sense of solidarity as we all strive for COVID-safety. We really are in this together.
- Flexibility is key. Children may not present a consistent response to the challenges of Covid-19; adults too. The more flexible we can be the better. If this means adjusting expectations so be it. Priorities may need to shift when pressures mount, especially for children for whom change feels destabilising. For others, too, change may be freeing. There will be lessons to learn for all concerned.
- Reinforce collaborative working with parents and carers. You’re a team, and at such potentially stressful times, the strategies that make your team work will need honing and crafting. Check in regularly in the spirit of collaboration and mutual support.
- We’re clearly in this for the long haul so some children may need reminding about what is going on and why we need to continue to take the precautions we need to take. It is a great opportunity for a more generic and holistic focus on health and wellbeing. Similarly, some children may need to address their on-going anxieties about living through a global pandemic. Taking time to address both of these responses is essential as part of our ongoing handling of the situation.
- Additional reasonable adjustments may be necessary at some stage, not least when anxieties fluctuate. This is likely to be happening for all in a school’s community; staff, children and parents alike.
- Creative responses to potentially stressful situations can help to soothe the way for all children, not least those with additional needs. Is there a whole school creative endeavour that you can undertake? Variations on a theme across year groups? This can be a great way of cementing a sense of belonging and camaraderie at a time of caution and uncertainty.
Find out more…
Barney Angliss can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
*Name changed for anonymity
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.