This month, many schools opened up their numbers to include Reception, Year One and Year 6 children to sit alongside the children of keyworkers and also those children unhelpfully labeled as ‘vulnerable children’. Many schools did not and many local authorities have felt that they simply were not ready. It’s a complicated picture as the country has a number of areas that have yet to peak in their numbers of people having covid 19 so legislating about this was always going to be difficult if done through a national lens.

The result of what has been described of as non stop guidance changes, meant that this week we saw plans for primary school children to return to school scrapped!

As a trainer working across the four nations and within all the sectors, I have gathered my own insights about some of the challenges and some of the opportunities being faced by schools, parents and carers and those working to support schools.

  1. As everyone, yes everyone, has had some sort of experience that may well have encompassed loss, disconnection and/or removal of support structures/resources, the opportunity for the empathy muscle to have been strengthened has been on offer. Of course, in this broad spectrum of experience that runs from people having loved lockdown right through to those experiencing individual, collective and community trauma (and everything in between), this will look different for everyone. However, there are experiences experienced that won’t have been encountered by some people before. This is a huge opportunity to improve understanding of those who live with loss, disconnection and isolation all the time.
  2. With a stronger empathy muscle comes an opportunity to think about what our own support structures, relational practices and resources look like and consider a life without those things. We can spend time particularly focusing on the developing child living without what we might consider to be quite basic and that we take for granted. It can be a challenge to imagine a very different human experience than our own. This is understandable of course. Without a varied set of life experiences, travel to other continents and lack of exposure to other cultures, communities and a broad educational curriculum, really connecting with the impact of poverty when you’ve never felt hunger, for example, is beyond the imagination. Similarly, trying to step into the shoes of a child who has little stimulation, is drowning in parental toxic stress and has few resources available created by political ideology is very hard when your own children may have been read to, completed school work and enjoyed long Summer walks throughout lockdown. This isn’t an opportunity to feel guilty about that; it is an opportunity to ‘do the work’ and create environments that do not ‘add to harm’ but rather seek to support recovery from it.
  3. What this means is that understanding attachment, the developmental stages of childhood and some basic neuroscience should be THE ABSOLUTE BASIC requirement if you are working with children! I left 2019 frustrated at delivering training that had become a ‘tick box’ experience for schools, teams and others. This pandemic has shown up the gaps in settings in this knowledge, wisdom and application. If you do not ‘do the work’ then what you know will never be what you ‘be’. For those who have had lots of training in this area, then your work can go deeper and focus on working through how to ensure that your environment from start to finish demonstrates safety, belonging and dignity.
  4. The pandemic is very much an opportunity. It has shown up all that yet needs to be healed. From the desperate injustices of racism to environmental harm to political capability (and I’m thinking of a huge hospital built in weeks rather after we endured a decade of harmful ideological austerity rather than the handling of coronavirus per see). The gaps that existed prior to the pandemic will have widened. We know this. If we are working in ways that did not prioritise doing something about it, then now is the time. When we know better, we do better.
  5. There are many commentators who are looking at how the opportunity presented can be utilised in schools and I am particularly interested in Barry Carpenter’s Recovery Curriculum which really places understanding loss at its heart. I’m not going to explore his work here but I would suggest you have a look at it for yourself and consider and reflect on where you sit on this spectrum of thinking.

We can sit back down in our comfort which we now refer to as ‘back to normal’ OR we can really make a collective stand about what environments we want our children to learn in each day (and many, many schools really hold this space beautifully), what kind of people for their communities we want them to become and to shape (because they are the future of that community) and what kind of adversarial growth pot we wich to cultivate.

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