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Covid and children’s wellbeing; lessons from Sussex heads

Headteachers have been at the forefront of the dramatic changes to our children's lives this year. Muddy caught up with three to get their take on a year like no other.

2020 has brought challenges like never before to our children, and us as parents. As we approach the end of term, we took the opportunity to quiz the heads of three noted Sussex schools for their take on how children and schools alike have risen to the challenges of Covid, and what parents and families can do to prioritise their children’s wellness over the winter and into next year.

Our heads are: Heather Beeby, Lancing Prep Worthing; Tom Lawson, Eastbourne College, and Fergus Llewellyn, Cumnor House.

What are the most significant changes the school has made over the last eight months?

FL: Remote learning was a new endeavour for many of our children, parents and staff and I’m incredibly proud of how we responded to this. Our teachers went above and beyond to stay connected with the children. In addition over the summer we were able to continue working on our extension to the fantastic Cumnor Nursery, which will be read to welcome children from January.

HB: We have broken down the barriers between school and home, and found new ways to communicate with our families. Parents understand more about how their sons and daughters learn. And while social distancing hasn’t been much fun, the children can all now estimate 2m very accurately.

TL: Embedding responsible and productive use of technology into teaching and learning was a journey already underway, but lockdown accelerated it. Pupils now get real-time marked work, easy access to teachers, parents get more feedback and pupils gain vital workplace skills.

How, in your opinion, have children and the school responded to changes brought about by the pandemic?

HB: Most of the children have been magnificent, a few returned to school with heightened anxiety. Some changes have been relatively simple, for example allowing the children to wear sports kit to school when they have games lessons, but the knock-on effect has been more time for teaching and less lost property! In our recent parental survey, 100% of parents reported they found teachers to be supportive in responding to questions or queries they or their child may have about work, and in giving feedback to completed tasks.

FL: Our wellbeing curriculum iSpace Wellbeing has been central to how children have adapted – two of our students were recently featured on CBBC Newsround talking about their experiences. Children had the tools to understand how they felt during lockdown and on returning to school, the language to communicate this. Undoubtedly this has had a positive impact.

TL: The children have been resilient, keen to get involved and embrace new activities and skills, and now consider the future more carefully. Our house system has been the best way to encourage bonding, keep year group events alive, and challenge the children with competitions like a Bake Off, photo competition and lots more.

What issues are you seeing children face after more than eight months of disruption and uncertainty?

TL: Low-level anxiety with concern for friends and family, and what next year will look like. Uncertainty about exams and frankly, everything at the moment, has reduced teenagers’ locus of control and across the country heads are seeing an increase in unhealthy responses to loss of control such as eating disorders and excessive exercise.

FL: Most of our school day continues as normal but there are areas where the inability to host visitors has an impact. We miss competitive sport with other schools and while ‘the show must go on’, our theatre feels rather empty.

HB: At present while we remain open, the children are fine and they always look forward to Christmas towards the end of term. We can’t hold our usual parties or host visitors or parents, but we have replaced some of our usual activities with equally entertaining activities we can run at a social distance. However, there is always the possibility of further school closures which some of our older pupils might find depressing and alarming. Our wellbeing team will continue to work hard with the children to help them develop strategies to work through this.

What best practice has the school introduced that you’re proud of?

TL: Raising awareness of mental health and emphasising that it’s OK to not be OK, and how to look after yourself and your friends, along with Wellbeing Wednesdays which has been initiated by our prefects.

HB: We’ve seized the opportunity to develop our wellbeing team and general wellbeing provision even further, and have appointed a new Assistant Head who runs our wellbeing space and learning support room. At home, cooking, gardening, reading, playing on the beach and walking have all engaged our families – children need down time too, but preferably spent with family in a warm and caring environment.

FL: We’re piloting our iSpace app as part of our #iWonder curriculum for Year 7 and 8 – this is to help young children continually review their wellbeing both in school and at home.

How can parents best support children’s reduced opportunities to socialise over the winter months?

HB: Make sure their children have clothing appropriate for the winter months and get outside with family and friends, away from the computer and TV screens. Aside from reducing the likelihood of catching or spreading the virus, this will significantly contribute to wellbeing, health and broader learning. Think nature walks, sightseeing, collecting things, mud kitchens, feeding and counting birds, digging a garden for the spring…..

FL: Exploring the beautiful Sussex countryside together on family walks, or playing more games together, gives us as parents more opportunities to really listen to our children and encourage them.

TL: Get outside and exercise during daylight hours, and online calls in groups are great for making sure nobody feels left out.

What do you personally feel positive and hopeful about as a result of the way your school and community has responded to the pandemic?

TL: Knowing that everybody has someone to turn to and be supported by, and that we can maintain a sense of normality and remain upbeat no matter what. And using our location for fresh air, calmness and time to breathe.

HB: During the first lockdown many of our children worked more independently than they ever have done before and some of the results were amazing. I feel hopeful that our focus on developing their learning powers has helped them become great learners who will contribute in a positive way to their work, whatever it may be, and their communities.

FL: Cumnor’s response to the pandemic, the challenges of remote learning and the changes to how we operate since returning in September has engendered a real sense of community. We have built adaptability and resilience among our children and staff. And we’re looking forward to a huge party when we’re out the other side!

Find more ideas here

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1 comment on “Covid and children’s wellbeing; lessons from Sussex heads”

  • sarah c December 13, 2020

    It would be lovely if you could interview a state school headteacher, working with far less resources, dealing with deprivation and really in the front line. Very disappointing

    Reply

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