New year, new challenges, new opportunities.
In my last blog in December, I talked about the impact of the pandemic on day to day life and the way that schools in particular have stepped up to answer the national call for support for our youngsters. Support for key worker and vulnerable children, the creation of remote learning platforms and systems of working, visiting homes of those isolating to drop off food parcels, teaching face to face and teaching remotely all at the same time and support for and encouragement of parents taking on home learning. These are just a few of the things that schools have been doing, not to mention all the COVID protocols, acting as test and trace officials well into the Christmas holidays, managing staff absences due to COVID and sifting through those who claim to be key workers. The strangest claim to be a key worker came from a person who walks the dog of an NHS doctor!!
In terms of where we are as a country, despite infection rates and death rates falling, we still have hospitals struggling to cope and until that picture changes considerably, it is difficult to see the Prime Minister relaxing lockdown measures. However, that shouldn’t preclude the PM from having a plan for a return to full school occupancy when the science data suggests it is possible. The key staging posts on this path to a “normal” school system are infection rates falling and low enough not to create another spike, hospital admissions coming right down from where they are now, vaccination of staff and the majority of the adult population to prevent serious illness and death and the extent of testing for the virus. This last one would suggest that school capacity to do this level of testing needs to be scaled up. It is good to note that the Secretary of State has said schools will get a two week lead-in to any green light to return to full occupancy as there will be much to do for schools is getting ready to re-establish bubbles and bubble working again.
In many ways the above “roadmap” back to full occupancy is the remit of the Prime Minister and he is likely to come in for criticism from some quarter for being too quick or too slow!
“From a school perspective, knowing the above means that we will be returning to full occupancy at some point and that may initially mean bubble working before a return to normal face to face contact between bubbles in the autumn.”
So that is the structure mapped out, but what will school leaders be dealing with when staff and pupils return to face to face and mixed working and how prepared will you be for the situations that greet us?
We know that staff and pupils will be scarred mentally to a greater or lesser degree from the pandemic. Some will be recovering from the effects of isolation, some will be recovering from the impact of prolonged anxiety and sadly some will be dealing with the impact of bereavement. Some will have faced domestic abuse and need support, some will have negative self esteem and a lack of confidence having not been in the classroom for so long.
There will also, from a student perspective, be worry about how much learning has been lost especially if that learning is in an exam year. From a teacher or school leader perspective there will be concern about how close you are to an Ofsted window.
“However, what this pandemic has taught us, is that we need to better care for our mental health and wellbeing.”
We need to be nurturing our wellbeing so that we have a wellbeing reservoir to draw upon when things are tough and we also need to rebuild our wellbeing after the pandemic.
At SAS, we have been here for our client schools, supporting them through this crisis and we have big plans and new opportunities for the forthcoming year.
We already have a huge range of in-house wellbeing services that can be secured through one of our policies and this is supplemented by the partners within our National Wellbeing Partnership. The NWP is packed full of providers who, like us, want to make a positive difference to you and wellbeing in your school. The SAS website really is a one stop shop for wellbeing.
In the months ahead, we will be pulling together a network of wellbeing focused schools. These are schools who are at some point on the wellbeing journey and will be an opportunity for all schools to find out more about what works in wellbeing.
As we move through the year we fully anticipate face to face regional roadshows which will be free for schools to attend to find out how we can support you with a whole school wellbeing culture which meets the needs of all staff and pupils.
If you would like to be part of the network of wellbeing focused schools or attend a regional event then do please contact me and we’d be delighted to help.
In the meantime a belated Happy New Year and if there is anything that I can support you with in terms of wellbeing pleased don’t hesitate to contact me.
Don’t forget as a client school you can get the Mentally Healthy Schools Award Toolkit from the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools absolutely FREE for schools with an active SAS or NAHT Wellness and Protect Policy. Click here to learn more about the School Mental Health Award.