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Ask Andy – Blog 14

What’s in a word? Catch up or recovery?

As schools plan a return to wider opening for pupils on March 8th, (let’s not forget that schools have been open throughout this pandemic) we need to be thinking how that return might look beyond the logistical arrangements. Unlike previous times when schools have returned to wider opening, we now have some time to plan and we need to use that time to make sure that not only are academic needs met but that we meet the varying wellbeing needs of staff and children for whom the pandemic will have impacted differently.

However, before I get to this and some ideas about how we might plan for 8th March, I just wanted to contrast the language being used by policy makers that finds its way into the public domain.

We’ve recently had a businessman in Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of the Exchequer) talking the economy up with talk of post COVID bounce back. After dark months with many businesses struggling to survive, this positivity is a shot in the arm if you’ll forgive the pun. Contrast that with political language around education from policy makers who’ve never worked in schools with language such as gaps, lost generation and catch up. I notice the adviser to the DfE Sir Kevan Collins is using the language of recovery which is far more positive and instils far more belief in the profession and parents. Talking to school leaders they just want to be trusted to get on with working with their students. It is what they do best.

“Teachers and school leaders are saying we’ve got this, leave it to us!”

If you believe that X amount of learning has been missed therefore X amount of learning needs to be put back in then you misunderstand the nature of learning. This is what we are hearing from our political leaders but the biggest impact on learning will be the building of confidence, resilience and what we globally call wellbeing. Learning is not linear and is not time related.

Children in a better mental place to learn and teachers in a better mental place to teach = accelerated learning. The research suggests this is the case by up to 20%. Those who don’t know the research suggest that we must spend more time learning. That doesn’t always equate to greater learning, but it does increase pressure on the system. This is a system which needs less pressure right now and to find their feet so that everyone is in a better place to learn and teach.

My advice for the most rapid recovery from 8th March would be to know and address the Maslow needs of staff and pupils. Maslow talks about the need to meet basic and psychological needs before we can be who we want to be.

How many of these needs have been impacted by COVID or lockdown for staff and/or pupils? Sleep, health, personal security, employment, friendship, intimacy, family, sense of belonging, freedom, recognition, self-esteem and respect.

If we don’t address these we build learning on flimsy foundations. However if we meet these basic needs we have the potential to make more progress than we ever thought possible and do it sustainably without further mental ill health.

“…if we meet these basic needs we have the potential to make more progress than we ever thought possible.”

Let’s build the foundations of the house and make them secure before we erect walls and a roof which might look nice but have no longevity.

If you’re a teacher have a look at Maslow’s hierarchy and keep a mental note of those who might be struggling in your class and plan to meet those needs because, to repeat the famous Alan Beck quote “You can’t do the Bloom’s stuff until you’ve done the Maslow stuff.” In other words learners need to be mentally well if you are to take any real advantage of the high quality teaching and learning we know is a feature of so many of our schools. Teachers and school leaders also have needs so if you are a school leader, be aware of Maslow as it pertains to them as well. Purposeful teachers and schools have at their heart a wellness that is a feature of all that they do and it feeds accelerated learning.

There will be a range of emotions about March 8th amongst parents, students, staff and senior leaders and there will be stress and trauma. This has not been easy and many will still be suffering and some, so far, in silence. In truth we don’t know what anyone in our school community is carrying in terms of mental load and worry.

At the start of the first lockdown, I created a timetable or rota for my family in terms of roles, as much to give us a focus for the week and some structure but we created a pact that whatever happened we would be kind to each other. We said that there would be no raised voices and we would laugh when we could. For me these should all be features of the wider re-opening of schools in March.

Try to give the staff autonomy, freedom and a sense of community as so much of this has been lost with the staffroom being out of action. I think we’ve properly recognised the value of the staffroom through this pandemic. Its loss has been keenly felt.

Don’t forget also that at SAS we have a huge range of services available to support schools during this latest chapter of the pandemic and whilst we know that we are hopefully beating the virus back, the mental health and wellbeing impacts of this pandemic will be felt for years to come. The National Wellbeing Partnership stands ready to support as well. 

I’m here to support you in whatever way I can as we approach 8th March and beyond and hopefully in the none too distant future I can get out and about and support you face to face with wellbeing. Feel free to contact me @andymellor64 on twitter or via the SAS website.

Finally, I want to send you every good wish for 8th. Your schools and leadership have been tested time and again and every time you have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and pupil centred care and as Dr Nighat Arif in the clip from BBC Breakfast says “as a key worker, I just need to really reiterate that schools have never been closed.

Andy Mellor

National Wellbeing Director

Schools Advisory Service


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