This week schools have started going back. After a six-month break for some, the return to school must feel remarkably daunting. Especially in a COVID-19 context with all sorts of concerns and anxieties about health and safety, risk and the suggestion of opportunities lost and the need to catch up on learning.
The beginning of every September is a time when I remember and reflect upon my own school days. They certainly were not the ‘best days of my life’ as the legend promises. Instead, they were times of dread. That Sunday night – before the first day of term – was one of the worst. In a moment, the six-week holidays were gone. I had looked forward to the summer for so long, but now the obvious signs of its end were there – conkers swelling, nights drawing in and becoming colder, and a new school uniform to grow into (a rarely did achieve my mother’s over ambitious growth estimates!). my hands were not usually seen by others until at least March the following year.
Last Sunday night was that day for many children, for the rest it is most probably this Sunday night. My thoughts go out to all those children having that experience, they will be immersed in their own thoughts and feelings. Some will be looking forward to it, eager to reconnect with the school routine and their friends. Others, like me, will not relish the thought at all.
Some forty years later, the beginning of the school year still reminds me of these feelings. Last year it compelled me to write some of my thoughts down and share them. Promoted in part by DfE releasing their updated guidance on keeping children safe in education: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education–2 This went part of the way to supporting schools and their workforces to do what is necessary to identify and address need. This year, I return to the same theme and can only imagine how a six-month break and COVID-19 has affected this generation now and will later on.
A six-week summer holiday can feel like a lifetime to a child, it did for me. They were times of adventure, outside exploration, inside relaxing, lie-ins and sofa time, and choosing to spend time on hobbies and interests. I recall long hot days and very rainy days, walking across fields, watching far too much television (Why Don’t You, Laurel and Hardy, and Tarzan or cowboy movies), drawing and painting, cycling anywhere and everywhere, and being extremely bored to boot.
Like every weekend, and other holidays, and no matter how long they often felt, the long-summer break was a temporary escape. They were times away from the torment of not fitting-in, living on the margins of what was going on in school, feeling invisible and unvalued, bullying at the hands of other children, and the omissive harm caused by teachers who were not present to meet my basic and higher needs. This is why such guidance is so essential, and it should be used effectively to ensure our current and future children are protected from the visible and invisible factors that affect their learning experiences and their journeys into adulthood.
This year there will be so much need, much of it visible and identifiable, most likely at least an equal amount hidden and unspoken. And the added challenge will be the sheer amount of anxiety and emotional needs swirling around schools affecting all children, their families and the school workforce. No one should prioritise anything else above these important and basic needs. Actually, they are more than needs. they are rights. And certainly no one (children, parents or teachers) should be distracted by any sense of needing to catch up on time lost. If they do, it will be this time that is lost, not the time gone by through this spring and summer.