Children are the bearers of our future
A similar phrase was used in Japan in 2018 when I travelled to Tokyo to hear Japanese psychologists talk about support that had been provided for children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The conference was called “Promoting Resilience for Children Toward Life-Long Happiness” and I attended to talk about resilience and belonging following the Manchester Arena bomb.
As we approach the third anniversary of that event this week, I have been reflecting on the immense challenges to the resilience of adults, once again, as we seek to protect our children from the impact of this pandemic. The past week has been particularly difficult for those who lead our schools, so our focus this week is on support for school staff as we go forward together into the next phase of this crisis.
We are offering additional support for headteachers, school leaders and SENDCos this week. Please see the final section below for further details.
School leaders received a large volume of information last week regarding how to plan for the eventual re-opening of schools, including detailed advice on implementing protective measures. It has been reassuring to note that the guidance includes a section on pupil and staff well-being and mental health.
We recently surveyed school staff about their concerns during the COVID19 pandemic. Amongst other questions, we asked: “Preparing for schools to open again what are your main concerns for your staff and what do you think could help?”
We received 130 responses from 17 schools. The survey was closed on 7th May before the most recent government announcements. The top 6 concerns expressed by staff are listed below, with possible responses in the following section.
Main areas of concern for school staff as they think about preparing to return to school
- Health concerns: “To be kept safe from the virus and keeping each other safe.”
- Re-adjustment to working life: “Getting back into routine”
- Mental health and well-being (staff and pupils): “Mental health and dealing with the pressures that returning will bring: Skills to help mental wellbeing of children”
- Pressure to catch up on lost learning: “The thought of catching up on curriculum that has been missed and stress of that”
- Having enough time to return in a prepared way: “Not rushed, fully informed and preparation is completed appropriately”
- Loss and bereavement: “Fears over how to support children and families who have been through loss. How do we know who they are? How can we support them when they're back in?”
It is important to listen to and acknowledge concerns, particularly for those staff who have not been attending school during the period of partial closure.
It is also important to give clear and factual information about the virus, how it is transmitted and the measures the school is taking to reduce the risk. People will have accessed a range of information whilst schools have been partially closed, not all of it well-informed. It is a good idea to develop a clear and accessible document that sets out for your school the best information about what is known about the virus, the risks of transmission, and how best to reduce those risks. This document then gives you a ‘script’ to use with all staff and parents. It also allows key messages to be consistently reinforced with children. If possible, it is a good idea to develop this document in conjunction with staff so that they are involved in the wording of key messages.
Factual information is important in reducing anxiety. It is particularly important not to make false claims or to give false assurances. In the case of the COVID19 virus at this time, it is not possible to eliminate risk entirely. The emphasis is on reducing risk and preventing the spread of the virus. Finding words to convey this message clearly to staff and parents will be important.
The Health and Safety Executive have produced a concise and helpful short guide to working safely during the coronavirus outbreak that might help as you undertake your own risk assessments and make arrangements for safe working for your staff. You can download the short guide here: Working safely during the coronavirus outbreak
Careful communication with staff at this early point in the preparation process will help to mitigate their anxieties and to reassure them that you are doing all you can to ensure their safety. The Health and Safety Executive have also produced a short guide to talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus. Whilst this guide is not specific to an education setting, it includes a short set of questions to help employers think about issues with their employees, applicable to all work settings. The questions will help you to plan in the following areas of concern: social distancing; organising your workplace; cleaning and sanitising; sharing information and guidance and planning how you will support your employees (including wellbeing support). The short guide can be downloaded here: Talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus.
Re-adjustment to working life
In our survey, staff expressed concerns about how they will get back into a working routine and how children will get back into a routine. The important points to bear in mind are:
- The past weeks of ‘lockdown’ have not been a holiday and have been a time of increased anxiety and worry for many people. As the virus is still with us, and there are fears about a ‘second wave”, the level of anxiety is likely to remain high as people return to work. Staff anxieties will reduce, for most people, as they come to understand the measures that are put in place to ensure their safety, and as new work routines become established.
- This is not a return to life before the ‘lockdown’, but an establishment of a “new normal”. Adults returning to work, therefore, need time and understanding as they adjust to changes in all aspects of their lives
- School leaders will need time to understand the changes for individuals within their staff body, for example: staff who may need to discuss concerns about changed childcare arrangements for their own children; staff who may have acquired new caring responsibilities, for example for elderly relatives or for newly vulnerable members of their families, and staff who may need to find new travel arrangements due to current advice about avoiding public transport. These discussions should be seen in the context of a significant programme of change for schools, and staff concerns may need some time to work through.
- The virus has brought about new health vulnerabilities that will have an impact on particular groups of staff. School leaders need time to identify and consider the implications of safe practice for newly vulnerable staff, and these staff will need time to adjust to the fact that they are now considered to be in a vulnerable group.
Mental health and well-being (staff and pupils)
This week our focus is primarily on support for staff. We will be providing support and advice for pupils in the coming weeks. Please contact your Link EP if you need support for pupils now.
The processes of seeking help and giving help are considered to be important aspects of teacher resilience (BPS 2020). This is the advice provided by the Health and Safety Executive on wellbeing and support for employees: The outbreak has been a worrying time for everyone and it is important that workers feel supported and listened to. It is crucial that their wellbeing is being looked after while working:
- Talk through specific concerns.
- Talk about what can be done to help people feel safe. This may include providing information about coronavirus and what people can do to protect themselves.
- Online resources can be used to help support workers, including resources to look after their mental health
- Talk about how people can continue to have conversations on concerns when they are working so they know they will be listened to and that, if necessary, action will be taken to change plans.
- If people are in the shielded or clinically vulnerable categories, explain what will be done to protect them. This also applies for people who are living with someone in the shielded or clinically vulnerable group
Self-care is going to be particularly important over the coming weeks. You may like to re-visit the resource sheet produced by Rebecca last week: supporting staff self-care
Pressure to catch up on lost learning
Staff are understandably concerned about the loss of learning whilst schools have been partially closed, and also anxious about what expectations there may be for ‘catch up’
It will be important to reassure staff that the ‘recovery phase’ comes before the ‘catch up phase’. School leaders will need to give clear advice about a period of transition, as children will also need time to adjust to the ‘new normal’ before they can be expected to resume learning at the instructional level.
As far as possible, staff should:
- plan to build on home learning experiences and value the learning that has taken place at home;
- arrange outdoor learning as far as it is practical: there is less virus transmission outside, and it may be easier to manage physical distancing outside too;
- allow more time for children to make sense of their experiences through play activities, for all ages. We will be providing further information and resources for this over the coming weeks: Prioritise play when schools reopen say mental health experts
Having enough time to return in a prepared way
As schools return there will need to be widescale changes in the way children are taught. This goes beyond the physical need for distancing. For some age groups this will require fundamental reworking of the school day and the way in which the curriculum is delivered.
It is likely that new techniques and strategies will need time to develop. Staff will be reassured if the extent of the change is recognised and they are given time and support to adjust.
Loss and bereavement
Further advice and resources will be provided over the coming weeks for this area of need. At this stage of preparation for a return to school it will be important that school managers know about colleagues who may have suffered significant permanent loss through bereavement. Information should be gathered about children and families who have suffered significant loss through the virus so that support can be planned.
Additional support for headteachers, school leaders and SENDCos this week
Please note, there will be no additional charge for the services outlined below
If you think we can help as you work through your plans for school re-opening please do contact us by email or phone.
This week our senior team are offering telephone consultations for headteachers who may wish to talk through issues around well-being support for staff, parents and children, or other aspects of their planning:
Teresa Regan email@example.com mobile: 07597990484
Paula Muir firstname.lastname@example.org mobile: 07809334556
Hannah McHugh email@example.com mobile:07714749254
Teresa will be offering a webinar/network discussion for Headteachers/ Deputies/ SMT during the half term week if there is sufficient interest. Please email if you might be interested in joining this meeting (firstname.lastname@example.org)
All of our Link EPs are available to support SENDCOs. Please contact your Link EP by email or phone.
We will be offering webinars/virtual Network meetings for school leaders and SENDCos over the coming weeks, focusing on themes of loss and trauma; change and anxiety; resilience and self-care for adults and children.
We are also preparing training on these and other themes for all school staff
(SENDCO Networks will not be charged for. Charges will apply to staff training)
This week (18 – 24th) May is Mental Health Awareness Week and the Mental Health Foundation have chosen the theme of kindness.
“We know from the research that kindness and our mental health are deeply connected…kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging.”
Read more here: Doing good does you good