Based upon our experiences as we have supported families over the last few months there are a number of challenges that are being experienced at the moment ahead of the return to full time school based learning that is currently planned for September 2020. Not least for families that have experienced loss or extended separation from much missed relatives.
For some learners the ability to spend more time at home and learn by themselves or online has been a successful and happy one. However, for others working more independently and without the same social connection has been very difficult. Some learners are ahead of where they would be at this time in their education but others have experienced major disruption and maybe even trauma and we also hear of previously highly performing learners losing confidence.
A common feature for the families we are supporting has been intense anxiety about the return to school both where there were potentially significant challenges already at school and also where school was a happy place but confidence has reduced and anxiety has increased due to the events of the last few months.
Our top tips and suggestions for moving forward are:
1. Remember that you are not alone
Remind yourself and your learner that you are not alone. Many learners, parents and carers (and teachers!) are anxious about returning to school for a multitude of reasons.
2. Keep talking
Keep talking with your learner as much as possible about the return to school, how they feel and what they need.
Parents and carers may need to model how to talk about anxieties and worries and address areas of concern with your child as best you can. This may mean talking about the challenges and worries many times or it may take you significant efforts for your child to be able to express their feelings in words.
In this case, you may notice how their facial expression changes or how their body language changes when you mention school and you can say “Your body looks tense when I mention school”. This kind of feedback can help your child connect how their body feels to emotions.
3. Talk about steps/actions that could help
Talk with your child about specific steps that may help reduce their anxiety level. You can ask your child about actions that they feel could help reduce anxiety for them. For example, would it help to walk to school together a few days before school starts, can they catch up with any friends from school even if online, or would it help to speak with their teacher?
4. Talk with your child’s school
Talk with your child’s school if you can ahead of the return to discuss or find out how the transition back to school is going to be managed. Do this as soon as you can so that you can share with your child how school may be different from before and what will be the same.
Also, we recommend sharing with school how your child is feeling and where they are at with their studies. Some learners are very conscious of being “behind” with the work set during lock down. Often the learners who have struggled most to keep up have additional needs and are going to need specific help and support by school to catch up. Some children may be relieved to hear that the school knows where they are and is going to plan accordingly.
5. Support for your child’s learning profile
For learners with additional needs, many of our clients have spotted ways in which their children could be supported better on an ongoing basis while as parents and carers they have been supporting their child’s learning at home. Don’t forget these things, send an email to your school’s SENDCo and/or teacher and seek to discuss these ahead of the term starting if possible or once the term has begun.
6. Mental health support may need to increase
Learners with mental health needs may also have missed out on support during the lockdown period and some learners, sadly, will now have mental health needs that they did not have before.
Mental Health UK (linked on our resources page) has suggestions of ways that teachers can support mental health upon the return to school and parents could talk with school about any of those areas that you think would help your child with a view to these being put in place.
Of course, talking with your GP and pre-existing mental health team about what further support your child can receive would be helpful.
Our resources page also includes mental health resources that could be used at home and that will help you discuss the current situation with your child.
7. Catching up with learning
With regard to help with learning, you can find out what support you are entitled to from school, for example, whether your child will receive additional tutoring or other catch up sessions.
There are tutors that work online if you have a budget for this and we recommend taking care to find tutors/teachers with experience of your child’s learning profile and age and stage. You may not find the first person connects well with your child so do try more than one tutor if need be.
There are also online workshops such as our Accelerating Progress in Maths ASDAN workshops during the holidays and on term time Saturdays for year 9, 10 and 11 pupils who would benefit from extra input in Maths for their GCSE. This programme is specifically designed to boost progress in GCSE Maths by focussing on core skills using real life situations that are an increasing part of GCSE exam papers.
It may take longer than usual for sleep and daily routines to be put in place ahead of school starting given the long period since learners were last in full time school.
Think about planning a transition to school time routines and we would recommend that firstly this is thought of in terms of bed times and gradually bringing these into alignment with the time that would work when school starts. This might look like going to bed 10 minutes earlier as a starting point as major changes in routine are hard to put in place quickly!
9. Support for parents and carers
Don’t forget that you may also need support as home life has been much more demanding for many of us with added responsibilities and demands on our time. Our resources page includes places for parents to access support including Affinity Hub and its online parent support group. Our parent line is also still free if we can help with further support or input and can be booked here.