As a network of 50 organisations working together for the wellbeing of children in education, the Schools Wellbeing Partnership is acutely aware of the importance of end-of-year transition and the challenges of managing this well when many pupils are still learning remotely. This blog from Partnership member the Anna Freud Centre sets out how schools might use a check-in with pupils before the end of term to support their wellbeing and help them move positively to the next stage of their education.
As we move towards the end of the summer term, many schools will be thinking of ways they can appropriately mark the end of the school year with all pupils. The period of lockdown means that children and young people have been experiencing endings without the usual social support systems that schools provide. They will also have missed out on the traditional end of year activities and rituals which are such an important part of school life. We know that these losses have been felt by both staff and young people themselves.
Although pupils will not be able to experience the ending to the school year that they are used to, schools can still support positive transitions to the next stage of their education. This could involve all pupils being given the opportunity to have some time to talk with a member of school staff before term ends, ideally face to face, or virtually – and if neither are possible, through an online survey. This will provide an opportunity to mark this ending, as well as celebrating successes and achievements from across the year, both before and during lockdown. It will also be a key moment to check in with pupils to see how they are coping emotionally at this time.
This has been a strange period for us all, but we continue to be concerned about its impact on children. Throughout lockdown, 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. We don’t yet know enough about the impact of lockdown or the pandemic on children and young people’s mental health, or how it will play out over the longer term. In the meantime, it’s critical that we identify and support children who may be struggling – and who may struggle as we move forward into the next phase.
Checking in with each pupil over the coming weeks can provide space for an open and honest conversation about how they have experienced lockdown, any worries or concerns they may have, and to start to think about preparing for the new school year in September. It will provide an opportunity for teachers to identify new vulnerabilities and to plan for pupils who may need support on returning. Staff may also identify the need to offer referrals to external pathways where appropriate, and to help establish support networks for pupils and families over the summer period if required. If a survey is carried out in place of face-to-face or virtual check-ins with pupils, ensure that it provides the opportunity to hear from each young person across this range of issues.
So what key elements would be included in a check-in?
Recognising the lockdown experience of the young person
- Encourage pupils to talk openly about their experiences of the last few months and how they are feeling now as lockdown eases.
- Find out about anything which they are proud of having done during lockdown (both in terms of school work, but also more generally), and acknowledge these achievements.
Addressing any current concerns
- Listen to your pupils’ worries, and where possible also encourage them to identify alternative ways of thinking and coping strategies for addressing problems. A useful resource to think about coping strategies can be found here https://mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/resources/emotional-check-in-for-ages-11plus/
- Find out whether they are managing to keep to a routine at home, and are getting enough sleep and exercise because of the value this has for both physical and mental health.
- Ask if they’ve managed to stay in touch with friends during lockdown (online and by phone), and listen to any concerns they might have about how their friendships may have been affected when schools return.
- Reinforce the importance of sustaining their social ties with friends, family members and other loved ones so they feel connected and supported, and that this should continue as we move through this period of uncertainty.
Planning for the future
- Ask your pupils about any concerns they have for the return to school or college, what their priorities will be, and how staff could support them with the transition to the new school year.
- Where possible, promote a sense of optimism by encouraging them to talk about what they are looking forward to over the summer and what hopes they have for the new school year.
- Remind them of the internal and external support options available to them, including over the summer break, and refer them to specialist support if needed.
- Signpost to useful online resources and local services, including self-care strategies.
During this meeting, and in your contact with pupils over the coming weeks, it is possible that they may raise an issue that the school was not aware of - or that makes you concerned for their safety or wellbeing. If this happens, then follow your normal school safeguarding procedures.
Positive relationships and good connections between a child and trusted adults in their lives play a significant part in developing good mental health and building resilience. Giving pupils the chance to check in with a teacher they trust, to talk through their return to school and verbalise any anxieties they may have, will be hugely valuable at this time.
Jaime Smith, Director of the Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools Programme at the Anna Freud Centre, on behalf of the Schools Wellbeing Partnership, NCB.