Some have questioned whether we should even be thinking ahead. The urge right now to speculate when so much is unknown can be an unhealthy one – even overwhelming. Focusing on the day to day, on surviving is understandable. But for me, in Lockdown doing the brunt of childcare for my extremely demanding one year old whilst balancing responding to pupils on Google Classroom (Make sure you read the instructions carefully x 10000), I desperately want to think ahead, to ‘when all this is over.’ This series of blog posts will address just that; the beginning of a return to ‘normality’ in education, and what that ‘normal’ may need to look like.
A National Approach?
I write from a position of having lead on KS2 to KS3 Transition across two different schools over 7 years – I consider myself experienced in this area, and yet – how to start?! I posed this question on twitter recently, and found a variety of responses. A point much agreed upon was the need for a National, or at least Local Authority approach.
The Ideal: In an ideal world, the virus will reach its peak in the next couple of weeks, with the absolute minimum of deaths, allowing the NHS the fulls resources needed to treat it effectively, and we as a society will quickly eradicate COVID-19. Thus in turn, schools will return for HT6, allowing for time for the important rites of passage – prom, leaver’s assemblies, and proper goodbyes. Although Year 11 and 13 would usually be long gone, I would imagine schools may request them back to support with evidence gathering for grades submissions, and also to allow them their goodbyes. This would ensure no student has been off school for too long, and give them time to adjust socially and emotionally, whilst catching up on missed learning ready for September, and allow colleagues to gather the necessary information on each child if they are due to start in a new setting in September.
The Likely: The likelihood is that schools won’t be back until September, with many families who have experienced trauma. In this case, I see there being a few alternatives that the local authority or government might set:
Plan 1, The Path of Least Disruption: All students start their new year group in September – including starting at new settings. Colleagues may start gathering information on new students remotely through HT6. Staggered starts may need to be considered, with reduced hours to gradually build up resilience for the rigours of a full school day, and being used to larger groups of people. More than ever, support and pastoral colleagues will be valued to support all students. Mentoring and 1:1s will be needed extremely regularly to check in. Curriculum leaders will need to consider using time to re-teach, revise and re-visit key learning. Time spent with form tutors on well-being with practical emotional support. I fear that colleagues with experience in trauma and grief will also be required in vast numbers. The benefits of this plan are that it is the least disruptive to the current system, with exams and tests held in the Summer term. The negatives are that it puts pressure on schools and school leaders to return to academic ‘business as usual’ sooner than their communities are ready to do so, for fear of falling behind others in the results race. It also particularly disadvantages our students and families from key groups.
Plan 2, The Path of Slow and Steady Wins the Race: All students will return to their previous year group (of academic year 2019-20) in September. Students will then move into their new year group (and setting, where applicable) in January 2021. The benefits – students will have the support they may need from colleagues they know and trust. They will have time to say proper goodbyes, take part in leaver’s activities, and catch up on and consolidate missed learning. The negatives – the question of what to do with Years 11 and 13 – perhaps they return for HT1 to support with evidence gathering for their final grades? Also, the knock on effect of having less time to prepare for exams in the summer may unfairly disadvantage exam year groups.
Plan 3, The Best of Both Worlds?: All students start their new year group in September. Students in a transition year will have local authority supported days/weeks to return to their previous settings for the social goodbye activities, whilst gradually transitioning to their new setting with the support of all colleagues. The benefits – this seems on the surface to be the best of both worlds. The negatives – the logistical organisation of the time needed and additional staffing will need to be considered carefully.
A School Approach:
Speculation on what the government or local authorities may or may not do doesn’t help you who are leading on, or concerned about, the area of Transition. So below are just some suggestions on what you can do over the coming weeks and months as a school to support our students who are transitioning to a new setting ‘when all this is over’.
- Send communication to children and parents – it’s ok to admit you don’t have a solid plan yet, with all the unknowns, but you could reassure them that they will be soon be a part of your community.
- Include photos of key staff – putting a face to a name is always comforting, and helps open up the lines of communication
- Suggest activities to support with transition – an idea for this is sending out blank postcards for them to send to you with their hopes of what they will experience, and a worry. This will help you to plan their pastoral activities in the first few weeks back. You could also link with your colleagues from their previous setting to help them ‘move on’ – perhaps a booklet or picture of their classmates with opportunities to write down goodbyes would be cathartic? A few conversation starters for parents also, eg ‘What do you think you’ll enjoy the most?’, ‘Is there anything you’re worried about?’ etc.
- Communicate with your colleagues in the previous settings – get in touch now to ask for information that will support their students to settle in, this will also give them reassurance that you care for their students as much as they do
- Avoid academic testing straight away – yes, we want to know their gaps in knowledge as soon as possible so that we can plan, but we need to do this in a supportive way.
- Suggest, ask, offer – don’t demand. This applies to communications with parents, students and colleagues. They may be juggling children, WFH, key worker responsibilities, or, like us all, just plain struggling. Your support and understanding will matter so much to them.
I’m sure you will have many more ideas – please feel free to share them in the comments below, or with me on Twitter @MrsLFlower. Ultimately, no matter what I, or anyone says, you know your setting and your context better than anyone else – you will know what will and won’t work for your students. Stay safe.