Amongst the many things that lockdown has brought to light, it has reinforced our confidence that success in school and in life isn’t simply down to young people’s ability to absorb curriculum content. First, you need to have the skills and habits in place to access it.
Relationships are at the core of FBB’s approach: we know that “stronger development relationships are linked to high social-emotional competence”, and for us, lockdown has highlighted how important relationships are to building Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. They unlocked conversations with young people around difficulties in accessing remote learning and enabled our groups to build the SEL skills they needed to succeed in school.
The past year
It has been a turbulent year for all of us, especially so for young people. Since March 2020, our young people have demonstrated incredible adaptability: they have adjusted to unforeseen changes to their education whilst coping with the unsettling challenges of the COVID pandemic. And whilst young people demonstrated incredible resilience navigating this new landscape, they also found learning from home challenging: it required a new set of skills.
When we asked our young people what FBB could do to support them through lockdown, Jaiden told us: “give us tips and motivations to do work as doing online work is very difficult”, whilst Harry said ”interact with us and plan study sessions each week to help support us academically and be mindful that it’s harder for others to learn without support and the proper guidance”.
Learning remotely has forced our young people to become more independent. They need to manage their days, wake-up in time to log-on to classes, complete tasks isolated in their homes with limited interactions from their teachers and peers. This type of independence is not usually expected from students until their GCSEs and A-Levels, yet students across all year groups were expected to adapt and take the reins for their own learning.
Relationships create a safe environment
Early in the first lockdown, our partner schools told us about their concerns regarding rising absenteeism, young people not completing online learning and subsequently falling behind in their education. At the same time, our young people told us that they missed their friends, and that they struggled to access school work and motivate themselves to learn from home.
Sofia, for example, thrived in school before lockdown. She was energised, confident and articulate. She was motivated by her relationships with teachers, she contributed in class,enjoyed going to school and crucially, she loved learning. ‘Going to school’ suddenly in her bedroom was challenging for Sofia. Without daily contact with her peers and teachers, she struggled to wake up for classes and to complete her schoolwork.
We learnt all of this about Sofia through our established relationship with her, that provided her with the space to articulate her hopes, dreams and fears about the COVID-19 world. Reflecting on the past year, I can’t stress enough how important relationships are to unlocking young people’s desire to learn and shape their educational future. Relationships between FBB practitioners and their young people unlocked conversations about wellbeing, they enabled the FBB group to support each other, and to find joy and connection. Relationships were what brought young people who had been absent from online classes to attend, contribute and connect in FBB sessions. Between March and July, were able to reach 95% of our young people, whereas schools reported having regular contact with 60% of their pupils. One of our partner teachers told us “even through these unprecedented times the FBB team have maintained regular contact with the cohort of students, providing constant reassurance during this strange time.”
SEL skills are key to successful learning
Once we were able to show our young people that despite lockdown, the relationships they had with FBB were still there, we were able to continue developing the Social and Emotional Learning skills which are core to the FBB Curriculum. This proved to be key to unlocking successful learning from home.
At one of our projects in the North West, the group started having conversations about their school work. They would check-in on each other, share tactics for learning from home and support each other with homework. Discussions about schoolwork were normalised and the group took pride in completing their work and talking about their successes. The FBB practitioner championed different individuals in the weekly FBB session, and also played a central role in sharing successes with the school.
In July, we ran our end of year surveys, and with the support of our evaluation partner Nesta/University of Sussex, we saw a statistically significant increase in our young people’s Social and Emotional Learning skills compared to the start of the year.
The strengthening of these skills meant that our young people were better able to engage with their school work. Mr Atkinson, Assistant Vice Principal at the Archbishop of Lanfranc Academy, said “over the course of the year, I saw the FBB group’s engagement improve, they were more confident in contributing in class and their attitude to work strengthened”.
In summer, we were also very pleased to find out that 78% of our Year 4 cohort passed their English and maths GCSEs. The evidence shows that Social and Emotional Learning skills can lead to learning gains of +4 months over the course of a year, and with our curriculum focused on SEL, our young people had the skills to outperform the national trend where 56% of young people eligible for Pupil Premium passed their English and maths GCSEs.
The past year shone a spotlight on the existing problems in our approach to education. It has highlighted that success in school isn’t simply down to subject knowledge but rather, is conditional on young people’s skills to access and take ownership of their learning. The consistency and strength of our team’s relationships with our young people meant that we were able to continue to support our young people to engage in their schoolwork and build their Social and Emotional Learning skills. We need to ensure that the lessons we learned this year aren’t bound to the context of lockdown but are carried with us going forward. Social and Emotional Learning skills don’t only lend themselves to learning during a global pandemic. They are key to educational success regardless.
Words by Gabrielle Hamill, Impact Manager