Back to School: What Really Matters.

There is no question that for the vast majority of children, learning online at home alone, has not been as effective as face-to-face interaction with their peers and teachers in the classroom. I can clearly see that the education of my own four children has been adversely affected over the past year. As a former teacher and teacher trainer, I care a lot about education. It’s why 20 years ago, I chose to call my business ‘Educating Matters’.  However, we need to focus on what really matters when children go back to school and it is not the academics.  It needs to begin with a focus on their social and emotional wellbeing.

The experience of children throughout the UK will have varied enormously over the course of the past year and there will have been huge disparity (even based on what I have discerned anecdotally) in the provision by different schools.  I have spoken to tens of thousands of parents about their challenges of homeschooling during the pandemic and they are certainly not based purely on socio-economic factors. For example, if you are a single parent or both you and your partner work full time, you would have simply not been able to support your child’s education and give them the attention you would have ideally liked to.  We’ve all just been trying to do the very best we can to get by can under exceptional circumstances.

It is so important to appreciate that parents and teachers create the voices in their own heads and that narrative will influence their behvaiour and even sub-consciously pass on to the children.  There is so much talk about this ‘Covid generation’ and the need to ‘catch up’ even potentially over the summer holidays.  Kids have missed out on so much, aside from education.  They have barely had any opportunity for social interaction or to engage in all the non-academic activities they enjoyed in and outside of school.

The government have appointed a new education recovery tsar to oversee this ‘catch up’ but I am not sure what are they supposed to be catching up on? If for example, a child had a terrible illness and ends up missing weeks or months of school, of course they need to catch up on the work their peers have been doing.  However, in this situation ALL children have missed school, so that would mean all children are ‘behind’. Behind what exactly?

When kids return to school next week, if they don’t feel comfortable amongst their peers, if they have terrible anxiety, if they remain in ‘fight, flight, freeze mode’ then very little learning will be taking place.  A child’s attitude, mindset and motivation is the key to success in all areas of life.  This is what parents and teachers need to focus their attention on.  Not constant negative talk about how behind they are academically and how much they have lost.

Especially in the earlier years, play is a child’s ‘work’.

Play allows humans to create, improvise, imagine, learn, problem solve, be open and curious.  It’s that lightness of being, curiosity and wonder when totally engaged with no worries or agenda.

Children should not be put under any added pressure to ‘catch up’. They have a whole life ahead of them after Covid and education is very much a marathon not a sprint.  They have the opportunity to learn throughout their lives, not just in school and certainly not just in one year. 

Children have learnt so many valuable things about life over the course of the last year, that no school in the world can teach in the same way.  They have contributed much more to looking after the family home, worked independently and learnt how to manage their time, procrastination and motivating themselves. It has been an opportunity to practice gratitude for simple things and a heightened sense of what is really important, along with emphasising core values such as caring for others.  They have also built up great banks of resilience, learning to deal with disappointments, setbacks and a huge myriad of different emotions. We should be emphasising this aspect to our children and focusing on how much they have grown, learnt and developed in other areas during the course of this challenging year.

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