Millions of children around the world have faced disruption to their education over the last year.
Brendan Pavey, Executive Headteacher, North Bridge House Senior Schools, explains why the term ‘lost learning’ is one we should be wary of using.
We can’t underestimate quite how difficult the last 12 months have been for our young people.
It has been unsurprising, and not unexpected, to see many of our nation’s young people struggling since the return to school.
For some, it was the relatively minor initial issue of having to get used to a routine again and the new, unfamiliar procedures put in place. For others, there have been and continue to be significant mental health challenges.
As parents and teachers we need to ensure that we create the space for our children to express these concerns, to show them that we accept that it is normal to be stressed / anxious and generally finding life challenging. Often our children just need to express themselves – to feel that they have a safe and secure space to express themselves – and they will take great comfort from the fact that it is OK to not be OK. Yes, they have shown great strength and resilience up to this point, but they will continue to need our love and support as we wait for a greater sense of normality to return.
How do we recover
In a recent BBC news survey, 65% of primary school parents and 68% of those with secondary school children are concerned that their child has lost out on learning.
Among these worried secondary school parents, 9% believe their child’s education will never be able to fully recover from the adverse effects of the pandemic.
And if you’re a parent or a guardian reading this then you’ve probably had similar thoughts of concern too.
As a headteacher, I’ve been sure to avoid any language about ‘being behind’ within the schools that I lead in North London.
We don’t mention ‘learning loss’ or ‘having to catch up’. School needs to be supportive and encouraging, not critical and stress-inducing.
Our responsibility as educators is to ensure that our students know and understand that they are not ‘behind’ and that their welfare comes first.
Supporting our young people
A key initiative we took at North Bridge House was to, each time we returned to school from lockdown, implement an extended form time, so that the children could talk about what they had found enjoyable and what they had found challenging about staying at home.
Openly sharing these anecdotes and experiences, highpoints and low points in a secure and trusted environment is a great help to the majority of children. Having a clear focus on the important aspects of wellbeing – both physical and mental health – and working with our own ‘wellbeing charter’ helps to keep the conversation framed in what we know, through evidence, supports the overall health of our young children.
A focus on the future
At our school, we are incredibly fortunate to have had the hardware, software and the skillset to deliver excellent online teaching and learning over the past year, and our students continued to benefit from a full timetable of lessons, assemblies, well-being check-ins, extra-curricular activities and parents’ evenings throughout lockdown.
But I know that’s not been the case everywhere. It’s a sad fact that many thousands of students up and down the country and indeed around the world haven’t had access to good education.
In order to progress their studies and feel confident in their learning and ability to achieve, those students elsewhere who struggled to access online learning during lockdown now need to be encouraged by their schools and teachers in order to make the most of being back in their care and leadership.
But we should still not be creating more anxiety and worry among these children by talking about ‘catch up’.
Talk of being behind or needing to catch up will automatically create a distance between the student and success that feels unattainable, and it is counter-productive.
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About the author: Brendan Pavey, Executive Headteacher, North Bridge House Senior Schools
Brendan has over twenty years’ experience as a teacher, including over a decade as a headteacher. He joined the successful, north London school group, North Bridge House, in 2017 as Headteacher of the Senior Hampstead campus. He is now the Executive Head of both Senior School sites in Hampstead and Canonbury, and has a wealth of experience across both single sex and co-educational environments. Brendan’s philosophy is that schools should be happy places to come to work and to learn, and that excellent academic outcomes are the result of high expectations coupled with high support. His model of ‘high support, low pressure’ has seen North Bridge House School achieve outstanding results as an academically non-selective setting, and Brendan has been a guest speaker at the Wellington Festival of Education as well as at many Cognita Conferences, while featuring in the press on educational topics such as ‘mixed ability’, ‘noisy classrooms’, and ‘student wellbeing’.
Brendan studied Geography at Durham (Hatfield College) before completing his PGCE in Secondary Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Following that he completed his MA in Geography in Education. Brendan is married to Sarah and together they have four teenage children (Madeleine, Isabelle, Grace and Freddie). As a result, Mr Pavey brings an innate sense of understanding with regards to the challenges and rewards of guiding children on the transition from pre-teen to young adult.