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'4 simple things to help pupils readjust to school'

Pupils will need time to adapt as they go back to school after the Covid-19 lockdown, says Maureen McAteer

Schools are so much more than buildings where academic learning takes place. They are at the heart of our communities, offering children and young people a safe, calm and nurturing environment to grow, learn and develop.

For many, suddenly being without the security and structure of school and the daily contact of trusted adults within education settings, as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, will have had a profound impact, and it will take time for those children to rebuild and repair those disrupted relationships on their return.

Barnardo’s Scotland and Public Health Scotland’s film, It’s All About Relationships: embedding relational, trauma sensitive approaches in education settings, (below) launched during Mental Health Awareness Week highlights simple things that education staff can do every day – which will be even more important as they look towards reopening schools following the Covid-19 lockdown.

There has been a lot of discussion about how "we are all in the same storm but in different boats". This resonates for children and young people: they have had the shared disruption of school buildings closing but will all have had very different experiences of their time at home over the last few months. Some will have had the undivided care and attention of a caregiver, while others may have parents who are keyworkers or having to juggle work commitments with childcare needs.

By the time pupils return to school, they will have spent months at home, having had much-reduced contact with peers and wider family networks, as well as limited recreation in the wider community. Some will also have had the additional distress of bereavement, poverty, domestic abuse or other forms of abuse. This may have left many feeling anxious, isolated and stressed.

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School leaders and teaching staff face many challenges in re-establishing face-to-face education. Alongside ensuring pupils' physical safety as they return to school, staff know they will need to prioritise mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Barnardo’s Scotland has suggested four simple principles for helping pupils find safety, belonging and connection back in school.

1.  Building strong relationships

By offering opportunities to rebuild friendships and providing a gradual introduction of any other additional support, children and young people won’t feel as overwhelmed by the re-establishment of their routine. Creating space for all to talk about their experience of the coronavirus outbreak will help them understand and express their feelings, deepening their understanding of themselves and others. 

2. Reframing and modelling behaviour

Slowing down communication and ensuring all children and young people have a clear understanding of what will happen when they return to school can effectively address any worries or concerns they may have. Education staff know that many have faced significant adversity over the past few months; children's difficulty in settling back into school may be a reflection of those challenges rather than a response to the school environment. We encourage teachers to be kind to themselves and to treat colleagues and young people with particular sympathy and understanding over the coming weeks and months.

3.  Creating a safe environment and a positive culture

The examples in the film such as "time out cards", "safe breakout spaces" and "worry monsters" all give children and young people options they can use if they need space to manage difficult emotions. While these approaches can be very effective, it is also important to ensure that there is a place in school where they know they can find a trusted adult to speak with if they need to. Many schools also have connections with other organisations who can help.

4.  Supporting staff health and wellbeing

Educating our children and young people takes great personal resilience. Making staff health and wellbeing a top priority is an important way of valuing our education workforce – while also ensuring that the best care and support is available to pupils.

Maureen McAteer is assistant director for attainment at Barnardo’s Scotland

 

Managing the Transition Back to School

Lockdown is easing and schools and colleges are starting to welcome increasing numbers of pupils back to their settings. Like any transition the return to school or college requires careful preparation and support. We know that a large number of pupils will adapt quickly and positively re-engage with their education. However, some pupils will
need additional support to cope with change and build resilience

Challenges faced by children and young people during the coronavirus crisis

During the crisis children and young people have faced an extensive period of disruption. For some
this has brought with it feelings of loss, and in some cases more traumatic experiences such as illness or bereavement of a loved one.

Previous research on the effects of quarantine and isolation have led to some researchers to voice concerns about children directly and indirectly exposed to the coronavirus developing mental health conditions such as acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)1. One study from China found
that a significant proportion of children who have contracted the coronavirus have subsequently experienced symptoms of PTSD2. However, the truth is that we don’t know enough about the impact of coronavirus yet, let alone how it will play out over the longer term. In the meantime, it’s worth keeping an eye out for children who may be struggling. Click on the image below for the full article:

 

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Back to School Toolkit - ready made signage 

 

For the full toolkit click here