Schools return: How the transition between home and school can be effectively achieved?

On January 5th 2021, schools were asked to provide learning that their students could access from home. Now in March – so long as the data is at a pre-determined position – our children and young people will return to learning, face-to-face, in schools after a second extended period of online learning from home. Our colleagues in schools will be (more than likely) considering how the transition between home and school can be effectively achieved. 

For some, the announcement regarding returning to school will have been met with eagerness, delight, and enthusiasm. However, for some, the return to school may be beset with worry, increased anxiety, and fear.

Children returning to the school environment

The time taken for our children to re-establish relationships, relearn routines, and experience feelings of safety and to being settled within the school environment will vary, and this needs to be allowed for and taken into consideration by all parties – families, schools, the media, and Government.

In recent years, policymakers and practitioners have increasingly focused their attention on the importance of student wellbeing.  Lindorff (2018) considered research from several countries to understand any possible links between wellbeing and academic attainment. Additionally, the study considered the impact of whole-school approaches to promoting wellbeing on both academic and non-academic outcomes.

Amongst the key findings was the conclusion that there was ‘robust evidence’ that in focusing upon the learner’s wellbeing, there was “strong international evidence to support the claim that ‘whole-school approaches’ to promoting wellbeing can have an effect on academic attainment and have positive effects on a wide range of other educational outcomes, including mental health, self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation, behaviour, and decreased probability of dropout.” (Lindorff, 2018).

There has never been a greater opportunity for schools to be prioritising the wellbeing and mental health of our young people than now in 2021

After the previous period of online learning ended in 2020, the British Psychological Society issued guidance (2020) to support the transition back to school and acknowledged that “children’s wellbeing, rather than their learning, should be the focus … (and that) children should be supported through socialisation and play”. The same message stands for this present period. This is not to say that academic learning should not happen, however we should not – and cannot expect – that our children and young people will just be able to return to school and ‘catch up’ immediately on any so-called gaps in their learning.

Everyone has been through an unexpected, adverse, and almost certainly worrying time and the negative narrative around the ‘lost learning’ and the need for our children and young people to ‘catch-up’ will place additional and unnecessary pressure on children and their teachers.

Now is an opportunity to focus on ensuring a positive start to the return to school and place the emphasis on the importance of student wellbeing. In cultivating the wellbeing of our students – at whatever age they are – we will improve their learning and academic performance in the future.

How to transition back to school?: A whole-school approach

There have been various methodologies suggested as to how the transition back to school could be managed. For example: a recovery curriculum (Carpenter, 2020), the SWAN (S – Safe. W – welcoming. A – All together. N – Nurturing) approach and a nurture model of provision which is grounded in Bowlby’s attachment theory and aims to address barriers to learning arising from unmet attachment needs.  However, a whole-school approach is needed and this step-change towards prioritising the wellbeing of our students will have a positive impact both short and long term.

There have been seven key principles identified that ought to be considered when contemplating the ‘best’ approach for their school. These seven key principles propose a framework to support the development of their current practice.  It must be acknowledged, that schools will be building on an already solid foundation of pastoral provision and that whilst this situation is new to us all, the guiding principles of nurture, care for and support of our learners is not new.

A positive start to the return of school

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of managing this and each school should consider the individual needs of its school community and what the needs of the children and their families are.

Equally important, and not to be overlooked, is staff well-being which is an integral part of this period of transition and consideration must be given to supporting this.

Each school will undoubtedly ‘look’ different in its chosen approach, and this is absolutely OK, however with a ‘golden thread’ of the guiding principles woven throughout their chosen approach, the overall aim of prioritising the wellbeing and mental health of our young people will be achieved.

Looking to the future and ensuring that the wellbeing and mental health of our young people becomes an integral part of the school fabric, Minds Ahead offer mental health training in schools and colleges, help local authorities and charities develop mental health strategies and offer bespoke consultancy in their specialist field of primary, secondary and college students’ mental health. 

Qualified mental health support in schools: What are we doing about it?

At Minds Ahead, we offer a masters award to school leaders and a Mental Health Specialist postgraduate diploma to colleagues who support pastoral care. Both qualifications are studied online while working so that the knowledge and skills learnt are applied immediately within their setting and tailored to that establishment’s needs. 

Our qualifications complement the support that is available in local areas. School and college leaders and staff will be empowered to support the mental health needs of the whole school community including developing knowledge of other local mental health services and clinicians.