With the whole school population returning on Monday and the government appointing Sir Kevan Collins as the Educational Recovery Commissioner, there has been a large focus on ensuring that students being able to ‘recover lost learning’. However what has also become clear when speaking with young people, teachers and our own FBB practitioners is that schools, policymakers and educators must broaden their understanding of recovery.
For many children the past year has meant that all their assumptions and prior understanding of schooling, connections and childhood have been thrown into question.The stark reality for many of our young people – especially those living in inner cities, in multi-generational households, whose parents have either continued to work on the frontline during this pandemic or those who have been the first victims of a struggling economy – it has been a traumatic period of time. The pandemic has caused issues around attachment – in their relationships in school with teachers, support staff and their peers.
Many young people will be returning to school having faced the traumas of the Covid-19 pandemic head on and many have had minimal social interaction with friends and a lack of contact with key adults in their lives. We are clear in our call to ensure that Sir Kevan Collins and the drive for educational recovery is both holistic and targeted at the specific needs of young people and their communities. Attainment is important and in order to achieve this, it is our firm belief that young people will thrive in an educational setting if their mental health and wellbeing is looked after.
What our young people say is needed?
Below are 4 key takeaways from young people on how they can best be supported to ‘recover’ the time lost due to the various lockdowns in the past year:
When working with different communities, individuals and organisations can either start from a position of ‘deficits’ – i.e. what is missing here? or from an ‘asset based’ position – what is currently here that we can build from to bring about the positive/change? To many young people we spoke to, the focus on catching up and ‘lost learning’ has felt like an indictment against them – that they haven’t engaged with their learning properly and must therefore be brought back up to speed. But as one young person put it:
“we have achieved so much this past year, why is none of that ever mentioned?… I have learned to manage my own timetable, I have learnt so many digital skills like using jamboards and organising meetings and I have had to motivate myself and manage my own behaviour, motivation and attention span.”
Taking this asset-based approach will not only shift the educational recovery discourse from one which is focused entirely on deficits to a much more empowering discourse that celebrates the resilience, independence and adaptability of our young people during this time, while helping build young people’s self regard as learners.
“I think my school could help me by helping us adjust slowly..not knowing what is next has really affected mine and my friends attitudes, especially our hopes… We need to bring back the positive feeling about school.”
The overwhelming focus on attainment and the calls for extra tuition and summer schools for educational catch-up seem to ignore the social and emotional impact that school closures and the lockdowns have had on young people.It is crucial that a recovery programme looks beyond attainment and works on helping young people reintegrate fully into school – that is through the redevelopment of key relationships and in bringing back the non-academic elements of school life that young people value. A recovery programme must include opportunities to rebuild social connections and build the sense of belonging that young people get from school. This could be through sport, outdoor activities and performing and creative arts as well as classroom-based learning.
At FBB we are firm in our belief that a safe, happy and healthy student is one that is able to thrive in an educational setting – students have self-reported feelings of loneliness (40% reported feeling lonely most of the time), isolation and worries/stress about their futures (35% of young people reported being worried about their futures). We must ensure this data is held in the same regard as attainment data (ONS).
It is crucial that students’ mental wellbeing is prioritised alongside educational attainment. As mentioned earlier, many young people will have faced the trauma of loss or have been in crowded, unstable living situations to name a few; a recovery programme must ensure that young people’s wellbeing is supported as a prerequisite for academic success.
Perhaps the most profound insight we received when speaking to a young person was the desire to be part of the recovery process. A clear insight has been the importance of ensuring a youth voice in the recovery process – young people are experts in their own experiences and we should recognise that. For example, as a male adult based inLondon I have very little insight into the experience of our participants from the North West – without speaking with them and understanding their hopes and fears I will be superimposing my own understanding of what is needed upon them. This is not helpful. As well as this, as I have learned from the girls on our programme, the all-encompassing term of ‘children’ or ‘young people’ does not speak to the specificity of girls experiences in education or during the pandemic or the unique challenges they have faced.
To this end, we are launching our HerStories campaign on 8 March which will focus on girls experiences in lockdown as schools reopen. This campaign will seek to understand what they need from society to thrive again. We will hear from teenage girls themselves and those who work closest with them, to understand how schools, youth work and wider society can support them to achieve a successful transition to adulthood.This campaign is about teenage girls having that power to control the narrative, by telling their own stories in their own ways.
What we will be doing to support young people upon their return?
From March 8th we will be returning to schools to deliver face to face sessions. Our partner schools and the young people we have spoken to have been keen that we support young people with their reintegration into classrooms. Our main focus will be to create the condition for young people to reconnect and re-engage with their peers, their teachers and our practitioners. This will ensure that they are able to tap into key relationships in their life and have a safe space to share concerns and transition back into the reality of face-to-face schooling.
A real focus of our delivery will be ensuring that we support those who are anxious about returning to school and those that might struggle with the routines imposed after months without the school structure. FBB will work closely with partners to schools to identify who these young people are and provide additional 1:1 support creating a safe space for young people to talk openly about their concerns. We will also be working closely with parents, acting as a bridge to school to provide information, reassure and answer any questions they may have.
Word by Joe Watfa, Head of Policy.