The long-awaited return to school is finally here, but we understand for many it brings its fair share of anxiety and conflicting emotions. So as lockdown lifts, we wanted to lift the spirits by focusing on everything children have to look forward to – and how we can help make the return to classrooms smooth.
For primary school children in particular, going back to school is a big boost. Evidence suggests classroom-based learning plays a critical role in the mental wellbeing and skills development of young children who, at this age, are absorbing everything. They will also be the ones to benefit most from the return to a more structured routine, which – despite the best intentions – can be very difficult to replicate at home.
The return of after-school clubs and some extra-curricular activities is a real positive for this age group too, as they help to broaden horizons and spark new interests. Then of course there’s the social element – playing your part in a group (no matter how small) helps develop a sense of belonging, boosts self-confidence and expands connections beyond normal circles.
While many schools have adopted effective online learning strategies, and older children are well-versed in using the technologies available, a return to the classroom marks a much-needed return to peer-based learning. The ability to exchange ideas, voice opinions, seek feedback and support one another are all things we’ve tried to replicate in our group classes – as they are critical to effective and engaging learning experiences.
Students and parents are understandably concerned about falling behind, and the need to make up for lost time. But in our experience, there’s no reason that children can’t catch up with the right support in place. The key is to understand there’s no quick fix – students will need a sustainable plan that enables them to recover and rebalance. Returning to school is a big step in the right direction and, when the time comes, there will be the opportunity to address any gaps – whether that’s through summer schools or one-to-one tuition.
It’s also worth remembering that the return to school means a return to variety, where subjects such as music and art can flourish once again. This is just as important as focusing on grades and ‘core’ skills – as Geoff Barton, head of the school leaders’ union ASCL, told MPs recently, students will benefit most from a “broad and balanced” curriculum.
There’s no doubt that school – like everything – will look a little different in the future. Social distancing, bubbles and masks are here to stay, at least for now. And many schools are planning to take a more hybrid approach to learning, where online and face-to-face lessons coexist in ways they never have before. But as the first (and arguably most important) step on the road to a new normal, we think the reopening of schools heralds a hopeful new dawn.