It has been a challenging time for schools, as they begin to reopen. Our school friends we have spoken to have generally been left to design their own systems and procedures. It is safe to say, from our conversations, that there has been dismay in the lack of leadership and advice from central Government.
In the absence of clear leadership from the DoE, school leaders have had to use their own initiative. It has been a balancing act for many, to give parents, staff and pupils confidence, while putting in place measures to ensure safe learning.
At the time of publishing, these efforts had ensured that thousands of pupils were able to attend socially distanced classes. However, the Government’s aim to allow all primary school children to return to school for a month before the summer holidays was still in doubt.
While the lack of guidance is seen as a handicap by many, the situation could also have its benefits. If you flip the narrative, schools are currently free from restraint and can be as creative and innovative as they wish to be in adopting new ideas and ways of working. In such a situation it helps to look at what other countries are doing successfully.
Denmark, for example, has been held up as a standard to which other countries should aspire. The reopening of schools there saw classes split to keep two metres between each child, more lessons taught outside and a rigorous hand-sanitising regime. Pupils were placed in small groups with as little contact with others as possible. The micro-groups arrive at separate times, eat lunch separately, stay in their own zones in the playground and are taught by one teacher. In other places schools have partnered with empty local theatres and museums to utilise spaces. While these types of ideas are not suitable for every school, they give an idea of what is possible.
Below we outline some advice for school leaders and teachers, based on the conversations we’ve had with our education partners. Using some of this information, Laughology has developed a pop-up programme, Mind The Gap – Back to school.
Top tips for back to school:
- Creating psychological safety for parents, teachers and children will be important for building trust. Have regular get-togethers and communicate clearly so all parties are aware of the changes and understand why they are in place. Let parties know the monitoring, reporting and hygiene processes you have in place. The situation is likely to change in the coming months so make sure people are kept up to date. Listen to parents and teachers and respond to any concerns. Remember that you do not have to have all the answers. If you do not know something, it is okay to say so. Be open to suggestions. Share useful facts and information and let people know where you obtain them from. Stick to trustworthy, authoritative sources and encourage others to do the same. Be aware that social media is currently febrile ground for conspiracy and scaremongering.
- Play is helpful for creating positive links to new behaviours. This could be through activities that encourage social distancing in a fun way or exploring facts about corona through stories and play. Honesty with children is important too. Let them know the facts in a child-friendly way and support them to understand the situation and the steps they can take to protect themselves. The risk from the virus to young children is incredibly low, so help them understand that while it is unlikely to affect them, they could pass it on to others. You could explain that children seem to have some superpowers against the virus! Also, make sure they know who they can speak to if they don’t feel well.
- Children respond well to visual cues. These are also helpful for parents and teachers. Simple signs to encourage distancing, hand-washing and mutual consideration help everyone recognise what they need to do. Use simple phrases. Communication lands well when it is delivered simply and repetitively. In communication strategy, three is the magic number. Three action-based three-word slogans work well.
- Keep activities light. Children’s brains will need nourishing with social and emotional activities before anything else. This will also support teachers and build relationships and trust.
To support your school community we have shared all our coping skills resources for all year groups free.