I suppose this is an odd comparison to make, but what if I put it this way: Are we (emotionally) stretching our children too much? We have asked every child in the country to completely change the way they are allowed to work and play. Not going to school, or if they are it is nothing like they have ever experienced before.
Now add to the mix the year 6 children who may or may not spend some time back in primary school but definitely will be starting secondary school (around) September. With all of the confusion over whether each school will open their doors to more year groups on June 1st or if they will do so a little later? Will many children actually return to the classroom if and when they are allowed to this side of the summer holidays? I don’t think that there are many schools in the country who can say with any degree of certainty, what their setting will look and feel like after the half term holiday. This uncertainty is putting an awful lot of stress on staff and parents, but lets not forget how the children are feeling. Many 10/11 year old find emotions difficult to put into words at the best of times, however in schools there are adults who are able to see through the behaviour challenges, notice the attitude changes and maybe, just maybe, read between the lines. We are fortunate to work in a country that (I know we don’t always feel this is the case) has a great deal of support when it comes to helping the mental health of our young people.
In previous years the secondary staff have been able to have meetings with year 6 teachers and indeed the children, possibly the parents who will become part of their community in a few months time. These meetings have been invaluable and thanks to the wonders of technology many have still been able to take place.
Here is my fear though: we all know, this year is very different. Many children who, back in March, teachers would have said will have no problem transitioning could well have faced some of the toughest months of their lives. This could have any number of effects on their well-being and their emotional capacity to go from year 6 in March to year 7 in September, with no formal schooling in between. Now I have written it down I am not sure how well I could cope with that! What concerns me is how much of this the primary school will know. This is in no way a criticism, how can we possibly know what is going on behind every closed door? Especially those who we didn’t consider to be vulnerable when it comes to the transition period back before the Covid outbreak.
I am fortunate enough to spend a lot of time working with the fabulous staff at http://challengingeducation.co.uk/ who work tirelessly to support the development, both emotionally and academically of disadvantaged youngsters. If they have taught me anything, it is that teaching to improve the chances of the least advantaged often involves having to ‘think outside the box’, and challenge the status quo, but when you do that every child is provided with the opportunity to improve.
As with every other year, phases will work hard to ensure as much information is passed between each other as possible. My plea, however, is to dig a little deeper with the children as soon as they become a part of your ‘family’. Find new ways of speaking to all families but especially the reluctant ones. In the past we have spent so much time trying to get these families into school, has this outbreak taught us that there are other ways? Even without technology can we continue social distance meetings and talk to family members without having to have them come to school and maybe even without us needing to cross the threshold. Is what is behind closed doors the barrier itself?
One of the worst things we can do for this cohort is assume that the experience they have had during this period of lock down is the same. I know that sounds like I am teaching grandma to suck eggs but I would like to take it one step further than just recognising this. We need to find a way to deal with it. We may never know the way of life that the children are starting their journey at your school after. What we do need to do it to prepare our staff to be able to recognise or support when children might be struggling. Use the information provided by the primary school and question if the lock down has affected the child in ways no one realised or anticipated.
This is where my argument against baseline comes back into play. If we are going to have a truly successful transition period with these youngsters we have to spend quality (key word) time getting to know them. The reason that primary schools are able to provide the secondary sector with such quality information is because they know the children and the families. They are able to recognise signs of change, they know if Adam is just being lazy or if has had a bed few days at home and he needs some time to digest his experiences. Very few of us will have this ‘inside’ knowledge in the early days. Sylvain may have been a very confident and outgoing young man back in year 6 but that is not the child we meet in year 7. There could and will be any number of reasons for this and there is no way we can support him properly unless we take the time to understand him. So we have to get to know the young people and try to decipher how the last few months may or may not have affected them. Knowledge and relationships are more powerful than anything you can find in a test or a report. Use everything that the primary school provide – it is vital. But triangulate it with the relationships and the family understanding that you can nurture during the first term (at least) of secondary school.
In answer to my first question ‘Are our children like elastic bands?’ I think that yes, yes they are and right now many are stretched to their limits. We need to make sure that we are in a position to help them relax the tension so that they don’t snap as soon as they walk through the door.