School closures impact not only students, teachers, and families, but have far-reaching economic and societal consequences. Children thrive when they are safe and protected, when family and community connections are stable and nurturing, and when their basic needs are met. That stability and structure has undergone a cosmic change that as adults we have been left reeling. Considering that is the effect on us – how are the precious little people that we have the privilege of teaching, how are they feeling as they face the unchartered terrain? The swift action of my school closure and many others up and down the country meant as their teachers we couldn’t prepare children for lockdown and teach what it, and what isolating would mean. We weren’t present to be the port of call to discuss and share their questions, worries and apprehensions.
The coronavirus pandemic and the unprecedented measures to contain its spread has disrupted nearly every aspect of children’s lives: their health, development, learning, behaviour, their families’ economic security and their protection from violence, abuse and mental health. Today, we know that over 99% of children are living under some form of pandemic-related limit on movement; 60% live in countries under full or partial lockdowns and 1.5 billion children are out school.( United Nations , April 2020) This is especially tragic for the poorest children, who rely on school meals for their only consistent daily ( at times the only hot) meal. Many children and young people across the country will have found themselves taking on caring roles as parents and carers become ill with Covid-19. Those who are already young carers will have to deal with the added pressures that a lockdown has created. During this crisis, there will have been added pressure on young carers to get food and supplies, but many won’t have had access to larger stores, standing in the queues or online shopping which may have resulted in on missing out on much needed basics .
The once hubs of activity are now silent, education for children is now via online classrooms. As teachers we have wanted to continue emphasising the importance of learning, but it is also important to be realistic in our expectations of what pupils were likely to achieve at home. Home learning, for most will be more intense than being in the classroom, as activities have less variety, and pupils do not have the same opportunities to share ideas and collaborate on work. Teachers are planning lessons and diligently posting them online with a hope to create stability and help to reduce learning loss. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, parents have found themselves taking on a new role as home educators and temporary teachers. However, even with remote help from real teachers, many parents have found the stay-at-home teaching model to be quite difficult – with many parents and carers sharing their frustration and upset on various media platforms. From children begging to return to school to parents admitting they aren’t able to figure out their child’s homework, these are the issues parents are facing. “It is not going good. My mum’s getting stressed out. My mum is really getting confused,” the eight-year-old student wrote. “We took a break so my mum can figure this stuff out and I’m telling you it is not going good.”
One of my main subjects is Personal Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE) and whilst I have nothing but praise for my comrades – I feel I want to scream and say STOP! Let’s look at what our children need, let us park the grammar, the geography and other aspects of the missed curriculum and focus on emotional health. Younger children are at great risk, as high levels of stress and isolation can affect brain development, sometimes with irreparable long-term consequences. Anxiety related issues manifesting themselves in different ways.
As communities we have and are all undergoing trauma that will impinge on school performance. Trauma which will impair learning. As we all know troubled children may experience physical and emotional distress. As educators we need to be promoting well being activities online – activities that can help pupils mental health such as mindfulness. Encouraging children and families to play games, read and where possible go for their daily 30 minutes walk and or do their Joe Wicks collectively.
A return to school , whenever that happens ( and it is safe for all to do so ) needs to ensure that we pre-empt issues of the health and wellbeing of the whole school and its impact on the community during the crisis – particularly in the context of school closures and pressure on health services.
Areas that we need to have at the forefront of our minds are real issues that our communities have gone through – the refugees and migrant families who will have had no recourse to public funds. The Children in asylum-seeking families. Lockdowns and isolation place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse. Children in conflict settings , are also at considerable risk. Their reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators. Unfortunately these can drop under the radar due to parents assuming their child is ‘occupied’ in their learning. For those of us who teach in multicultural communities we need to ensure that we recognise that Covid19 has had a higher impact on Black families and it is featured as discussions enabling pupils to voice their views and experiences. The scourge of domestic violence and trauma for children has not dissipated during lockdown but in many cases children will have observed, heard and felt the Issues of domestic abuse. The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 25% increase in calls and messages from victims of abuse seeking help. This increase represents hundreds more calls across the UK, compared with the level seen just two weeks previously, prior to the COVID-19 restrictions being put into place. Victims of domestic abuse become more vulnerable when confined at home with their abuser. A further element is that emotionally stressful events can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour.
We need to be thinking ahead of what our schools will look like post Covid19 lockdown . Is it business as usual? Are we back to the exam factories approach and don our ‘stiff upper lip’ and solider on? Surely we cannot and will not allow the above to happen? As educators we need to take control, to ensure we are planning a trauma based informed curriculum. One that has PSHE at its core. Child centred learning where the child feel safe, helping them to realise there is a new era and that brings with it new routines.
We need our curriculum to be trauma informed that is able to support children and teenagers who will have suffered with trauma or mental health problems. There has to be an acknowledgement by the great and good of education that if Covid19 trauma will result in troubled behaviour, which will in turn act as a barrier to learning. We cannot simply pick up where we left off in Spring 2020 and need to educate those who have suffered several painful life experiences which are unhealed. There is a very high chance of them going on to suffer severe mental and physical ill-health. We therefore need our schools to support and develop relationships for these children that heal their minds, brains and bodies. The personalised curriculum needs to be skill centric in addressing and making sense of what has happened during covid19 and use the event to shift our whole school/organisation/community culture.
To conclude – I would ask that we pre-empt our return, let’s start the dialogue with the school leaders, governors and communities. As Pablo Friere said “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. We need to ensure our educational establishments are being trauma-informed which means being informed about and sensitive to trauma, and providing a safe, stable, and understanding environment for students and staff. “The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it”. Let us be the transformers!