School is out for children and staff for 2020/2021, and what a year it has been. It has been unbelievably challenging for schools to work with guidance that has been confusing, with bubbles to manage, periods of children and staff isolation, online home learning, students’ well-being, staff well-being and a myriad of other things they never thought they would be dealing with. The incredibly hard work they have done in keeping children safe and buoyant, and for the best part, actively learning, has been no easy feat to pull off, but pull it off they did. Witnessing first-hand how much effort has been put into creating an atmosphere that allows children to go about their school day as normal as they possibly can has been an honour and pleasure for which I am truly grateful. Visiting schools in the final week of the summer term was full of joy, with end of term parties and activities that they were all looking forward to with much excitement.
It has also been a time when children have become more lonely, more isolated and uncertain of what is going on around them. Children have expressed feelings of being angry, confused and worried about their parents who may become ill with Covid and about the loss of friendship groups due to being placed in different bubbles to the friends they previously played with before the pandemic. All of these worries we had not planned for, but we are dealing with them as children share their worries, concerns and fears with the adults who guide them and comfort them whilst steering them through the difficult year we have all had. The pandemic has impacted children in ways we have tried to navigate, hopefully easing their worries and reassuring them that this will not last forever.
A rite of passage for Year 6 students in primary school has always been the transition visits to high school, meeting their new tutor, making new friends, and finding their way around a new building that is often twice the size of their primary school with many more students attending. For Year 6 students, transitioning from small schools into bigger schools can be quite daunting at the best of times - not having their high school visit, as they normally would have had, exacerbates their worries. Many high schools have met their new students via Teams, which at least goes some way to allaying the children’s worries. I know that teachers equally wanted to meet their students and were quite innovative in the ways they made the children be part of the transition, albeit virtually. Time and time again, children would tell me that their main fears of moving to high school were getting lost in the school and being bullied. Our RISE transition workshops have been a way to explore together how these two worries could be addressed in real terms.
It was clear that children embraced external visitors and the welcome I received in both primary and high schools was heart-warming. I witnessed a beautiful collaboration of two children working together when a child expressed to me that he did not know what he was doing and the child next to him said it was something they could do together. I spoke to the teacher present and expressed how touched I was by witnessing it, and the teacher commented that during Covid and since their return to school she had witnessed in the children a deeper, more meaningful consideration of each other. The children were more patient and empathetic toward individuals who were expressing themselves in ways that they had not previously.
Despite the time away from their friends for most of the academic year, children have adapted to this change in different ways, with some being fine with it while others have struggled with the changes, not really understanding why. Looking back over the year, having delivered RISE and ZAP workshops to over 1,000 children, I have taken great comfort from the fact that schools have been the bedrock of nurturing for children and their parents, keeping them safe, mentally well, allowing children to express their concerns and giving them the space to be afraid, to be angry, to be sad and uncertain about their future. And in doing so, they have allowed the children to grow in more ways than they would have had they not been in school. Looking forward to September, I am sure that children will deal with the new changes, whatever they may be, with the same resilience and fortitude that they have this past year. One thing I am certain of is that schools and their staff will meet head-on the challenges and welcome the children with open arms, embrace them and continue doing what they do best - to teach, care, guide, and steer children to achieve all that they can under the most difficult of circumstances. For that, I salute you. I am proud and beyond thankful that schools have allowed Kidscape into their schools and allowed me to meet the staff and children. Enjoy the summer, you all deserve it.