We were really pleased to be able to join the Centre for Education and Youth’s roundtable on supporting vulnerable young people through Covid-19. It was inspiring to hear from a wide range of professionals, including Headteachers, Researchers and MAT Staff. Now is a particularly challenging time in education, especially for vulnerable young people who rely on a range of services a school provides. We were keen to hear from the sector what is being done so far and how we can support our own network best during this time.
A few key themes emerged from the discussion:
Be Kind to Yourself
This is an extremely challenging situation and no one has the right answers. Lots of people are being challenged to make big decisions with little time and incomplete information. Tom Rees (Executive Director at Ambition Leadership) reminded us that we should recognise this and be kind to ourselves and each other; everyone is simply making the best decisions that they can, based on the information available.
Eleanor Bernardes, Head of Development and Opportunities, Aspire AP discussed the importance of 'putting your own oxygen mask on first'. We can only continue to look after our young people if we maintain our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our workforce. This is a long-term challenge and we need to ensure that we conserve energy levels and wellbeing, particularly given many teachers won’t get their natural respite points over the next few months.
This is an unprecedented situation and as such, no one knows the right answers. Therefore it’s important to work collaboratively, and bring in different perspectives to come to better decisions.
Schools are rapidly having to find solutions to these new challenges. Carly Waterman, Headteacher at Lodge Park Academy talked about the voucher scheme they have set up for children normally receiving Free School Meals. Seb Chapleau, Former Headteacher and Director at Big Education Conversation shared details of the work they’re doing to help more young people access technology from home. And Eleanor Bernardes shared her experience of managing a bereavement in the school, something that tragically more Headteachers are likely to encounter over the coming months.
These are huge challenges and no Headteacher or education professional should feel like they have to face them alone. This is an opportunity to draw on your networks, reach out to each other and share your challenges and solutions for each others’ benefit. There is a particularly strong and supportive network of teachers on Twitter where teachers are able to connect and share ideas.
Welfare and Wellbeing Comes First
We need to be realistic that it’s not possible to educate children in the same way when they are not at school. Setting this expectation puts unnecessary pressure on staff, parents and children.
Carly Waterman, Headteacher at Lodge Park Academy shared that many of their vulnerable families will be struggling to meet basic needs, and are scared and uncertain about the future. It’s therefore important to think differently about the role of the school - we should be prioritising the emotional and physical health of our young people.
Steve Rollett, Curriculum and Inspection Lead for the Association of School And College Leaders echoes Carly's thoughts, reinforcing that it’s okay to be working in a responsive ‘hand to mouth’ fashion at the moment. This is a difficult, unexpected situation and we can’t be expected to operate at ‘business as usual’. Rather we can take a 'phased' approach and tackle each new phase as it comes. It's important to ensure the bare necessities are in place for every young person.
Whilst life beyond Covid-19 might feel like a long way off at the moment, there was an optimism that this will pass, and some positive discussion about how we might come out of this.
Understandably, many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the current situation, but there is an opportunity to make a positive long term change. The last few weeks have shown how quickly schools are able to change and respond, and proven that there’s no need to continue to do this ‘just because we always have done’.
Ben Gadsby, Policy and Research Manager at Impetus talked about the opportunity for front-line practitioners to come up with solutions to the problems we’re facing, as the Government will be looking to the sector for solutions once the immediate response has passed. Ben also highlighted the emergence of the importance of life skills - how can we continue to focus on prioritising and developing these for our young people?
Where we can help?
Life skills and personal development are our area of focus and expertise. As we've seen from this discussion there are a variety of challenges facing students and education. For some students this will be their final year before potentially going out into the world of work. For others, this might be their last year of Primary school. The transition they are about to undertake is significant, and they still need to be prepared for this journey. We are happy to share our free resources for both parents and teachers that might provide assistance.
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