February 12

Every young person has differing needs

There has been much talk of ‘catch up’ in the news this week. With the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins as ‘education recovery tsar’, there has been a huge amount of ‘noise’ around grand headline grabbing ideas: lengthening the school day; holiday catch up schemes and £40,000 earning losses for pupils hit by the pandemic.

Whilst I welcome strategic thinking about best supporting our young people and in turn supporting schools and families to do so, much of this narrative is unhelpful. I am not sure it is helpful to our young people to give them the impression that their future is already one of disadvantage and the need to catch up. Every young person and every family has had a differing experience of lockdown and their needs will be very different. In some cases, offering additional academic support outside school hours might be a sensible strategy, but for others that time might be better spent on outdoor sport, music-making or simple rest. Many young people have gained new and incredibly useful skills working from home, that will serve them very well in the future.

At Blackheath High School, the students have had a relatively smooth academic experience: no year groups sent home over Autumn and a seamless move to Guided Home Learning, well-resourced by functioning devices and supportive family environments. Whilst there are undoubtedly academic challenges to overcome, lack of progress or learning gaps are probably not our greatest concern for the majority of students. Yes, there will definitely be individuals who might have struggled, but this is not so very different to an in-person schooling year.

Experience of the last lockdown suggested that actually supporting the students to return to structures, noise and routines of a classroom environment was key in a successful return. Socialising in person, not virtually, is a different skill and students need our support and encouragement to re-build emotional resilience and courage. The students have simply seen and interacted with a much smaller variety of personality types, so patience, kindness and understanding are key skills to remind ourselves of.

I also feel strongly we cannot underestimate the impact upon students of being deprived of many of their normal sources of joy for such a long time: being able to sing together; mixing with students in different age groups in school;  trips outside of school; competitive sports. We will be thinking carefully  about how to maximise opportunities for these, as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.

Sir Collin is the former CEO of the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF), which gives me hope. Their research suggests a focus on the needs of the individual and insightful teacher feedback based upon excellent relationships will have most impact upon our young people’s progress. This we know we do incredibly well and have a passion for. I wish you all a restful half term and look forward to seeing you all for a brighter more optimistic second half of term.

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