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As schools begin a phased reopening, we’re reminded that the full political and personal repercussions of the last three months have barely begun to be felt. So much still remains unknown. The overriding need to ensure the safety of students and staff is taking up vast amounts of leaders’ time and energy. However, the psychological impact of Covid-19 and the wellbeing of the school community must be recognised. As does the welfare of our families as the virus continues to expose and exacerbate inequalities in society. We are all desperate to get back to school and rebuild our places of learning. However, we cannot return to ‘business as usual’. In almost every sector there have been significant changes in working practices. Schools are no different. There needs to be renewal to reflect the times we now live and learn in.
Professor Barry Carpenter has written powerfully about the need to build a recovery curriculum for students and staff. He argues that, the ‘thread that runs through the current lived experiences of our children is one of loss.’ The five losses identified (routine, structure, friendship and social interaction, opportunity and freedom), he believes will cause a rapid erosion of the mental health state of our students. The loss of friendship could feel like a bereavement for many of our children and the lack of routine see anxiety levels amongst young people rise. Reports have suggested that domestic violence has increased by 24% in London alone during lockdown and many families have been forced to rely on foodbanks for the first time. Many more of our children will have experienced trauma since being in lockdown, therefore any recovery curriculum must address the fact that lots of children will not return to school ‘ready to learn’. This necessitates an approach in which welfare and wellbeing form the foundation to opening schools more widely.
Despite the many losses, we should build on the extraordinary innovation taking place right now. Teachers have embraced working in new and interesting ways at pace. The use of technology has been used more efficiently to enhance learning than ever before. Some students have excelled while learning at home, as Andrea Silvain observes in her blog. How do we retain this innovation once the school gates reopen?
To help navigate the return to our settings, we designed a Roadmap for Renewal which we hope will be useful to other schools. This toolkit is meant to generate productive conversations and help shape a bolder vision of education. Many of us understand the need to respond to what has been lost during lockdown but our return can also renew the practices within and the purpose of our schools.
In Hannah’s school, the toolkit has been used to shift thinking away from ‘catch up’ and towards using time this side of summer to rebuild confidence and hope in students. They will be learning English, Maths and Science, and Heads of Department are planning sessions which build on what students already know and which utilises low stakes formative assessment to identify where their teaching should be focused. Tutors are undertaking training in coaching conversations with students and beginning the day with ‘check-in circles.’ Space for students to talk about what they and their families are experiencing is central to our return.
Leaders are busy making plans which respond to the losses of lockdown. One of the biggest losses in the end, may be if we come out of the other side of this unchanged. For the measures to rebuild learning can also be the very same measures which renew the education our children receive in the medium-to-long term. We hope our Roadmap for Renewal acts as a living document within schools – not just for the immediate future but as the landscape changes again in September and beyond.
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