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Return to school… why we need to prepare now

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This week, more than ever, the nation’s restlessness with lockdown has been in the news. There are calls for Boris Johnson to explain his plans for the easing of lockdown and Gavin Williamson is exploring phased returns for schools when the time is right.

And while the ‘right time’ is probably a long way off yet, we must begin to prepare for the return now, so that when we do, schools can best support our staff and children.

Now, you might think loss in learning time should be the first priority for any school. And under normal circumstances, you’d be right. But these are not normal circumstances. Before focusing on curriculum gaps (which I’ll address in a later blog), our attention needs to be on understanding and managing the social and emotional impact of lockdown.

So, in the early planning stages for a return to school, which is where we are now, here are two key areas I think we can start to practically prepare for:

Bereavement

There is a strong possibility that members of our school community will have suffered loss during the period of lockdown. Leaders and teachers must be ready to deal with this when we return.

Consider: Finding high quality resources for dealing with loss, share these in staff meetings and use with the children during lesson time. Many children’s charity websites have resources and lesson plans for dealing with loss and bereavement.

Enlist the support of Educational Psychologists to support you in getting this right and remember, you do not have to be back in school to have these conversations. And when we do return, be very clear which individuals have suffered loss whilst you’ve been apart as they will probably need 1:1 time and additional support.

Safeguarding

Children will return to school from a variety of scenarios and we need to work hard to understand whether any of them need support. Domestic abuse cases have risen during lockdown, so we need to be vigilant about children who may have experienced this.

Consider: Is your safeguarding training up to date? There are many online refresher courses that can be completed remotely, ready for the return to school – ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ is always a good place to start. If you want to plan ahead and support your children, contact your Local Safeguarding Team for an update on your cohorts (you don’t have to wait for them to ring you).

Even when schools re-open, normality will be a long way off. Initially focussing on the social, emotional and mental health needs of our staff and children will be the only way we can navigate the long road to normality.

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