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Scottish Voices - Headteachers reflect on the return to school

Scottish Voices - Headteachers reflect on the return to school

Jacqueline Cassidy

Jacqueline Cassidy

Director for Scotland and Wales - Jacqueline joined Place2Be in August 2020, following 10 years at Children in Scotland. Committed to supporting children, she previously managed the youth charity Kent People's Trust, and worked at the Social Market Foundation. She received a Winston Churchill Fellow in 2019.

Place2Be’s Director for Scotland and Wales, Jacqueline Cassidy, spoke to Headteachers about how their school communities have found the latest return to school, and what they are expecting over the coming months. This is an extended version of a piece originally published in The Scotsman.

For many children and young people in Scotland, it had been months since they set foot in a school – so how are they faring now that they’re back? And how are the staff coping?

Place2Be provides mental health support in more than 80 primary and high schools across Scotland, and the overriding message we are hearing from our partner schools is that children and young people are glad to be back.

While some children have benefitted from more time at home with their families, most are grateful to be returning to their routines and a sense of normality.

Claire Gray, Headteacher at Holy Cross Primary school in Glasgow, and her team have been working hard with families to ensure a smooth return, providing the information they need to feel reassured about coming back to school.

This time around, our online learning was much better. We spent time and effort from August to December upskilling everyone’s digital skills including teachers, parents, and children. So the momentum of learning didn’t stop when we went back into lockdown. Claire Gray, Headteacher at Holy Cross Primary school

For many children who don’t have outdoor space at home, fresh air and exercise have been welcome. Coughs and sneezes are doing the rounds but as Claire says: “These are good things. The children are building their immunity and resilience.” Now looking to the future, Claire wants to help change the rhetoric around the pandemic.

Children and young people have heard how terrible and difficult it has been, but we’ve been able to support each other and get through this together. Parents have been so supportive. Our families and school are closer. Children have also developed longitudinal skills for example time and resource management, independent learning, self-regulation skills which will take them further for longer. Isn’t that something wonderful? Claire Gray, Headteacher at Holy Cross Primary school

For the majority of primary school children, coming back to school has been positive for mental health, and for some, it’s actually boosted their wellbeing.

However, some others have needed a bit of extra support.

One of the challenges that staff have noticed is difficulty reconnecting with friends, perhaps because they haven’t had to share or take turns in the same way they do in school, or because they have spent so much time alone with only online contact.

At St Monica’s Primary School in Glasgow, each day the children come in and are encouraged to say how they are feeling.

[Pupils] want to come and tell you things but you can’t be normal because they have to be safe. Hidden behind a mask isn’t best, they need to see your expression and lips. Some children really struggle with it. It’s hard to be as effective. Martin Broadly, Headteacher, St Monica’s Primary School

While the specific approaches are different in different schools, Headteachers have stressed they want to do all they can to support children and staff to recover from the pandemic.

Regardless of school, we’re all trying to do this in our own ways, to ensure our schools are safe and secure, mentally aware and not overwhelmed, and to help our children feel okay and ready for learning. Martin Broadly, Headteacher, St Monica’s Primary School

For some children in Secondary or High school, the constant change and transitions over the past year have been hard to deal with. For others there have been significant life changes, perhaps through the death of a loved one or parents losing a job or being furloughed.

Anxiety is an ongoing issue for many, and senior students are particularly anxious and stressed about exam cancellations and how they will be graded. And, students can seem quiet and subdued in lessons - possibly feeling they might be “exposed” for having missed out on some learning. Jacquie Ramsey, Deputy Headteacher at Tynecastle High School

At Tynecastle, they are taking practical steps to remind students of the support systems in place, like providing reassurance about expectations around exam grades, support for children in their final year of primary school through enhanced transition, and continued focus on staff wellbeing so they can support students - this is where Place2Be has played a vital role.

We consider ourselves so lucky to have Place2Be in our school. Promoting and supporting good mental health and wellbeing in our students, their families, and our staff is an integral part of our school ethos and having Place2Be enables us to deliver this effectively. Going forward we want to create a balance between giving students opportunities to reflect on lockdown and its impact, whilst also allowing them to move on and look forward. Jacquie Ramsey, Deputy Headteacher at Tynecastle High School
It’s been a big strain on the staff. Making sure we’re there and giving them an opportunity to talk through Place2Be has been important. Martin Broadley, Headteacher, St Monica’s Primary School

We don’t yet know what the long-term impact of this pandemic will be on children and young people’s mental health, but what is clearer than ever is the important role that schools will play as we try to regain a sense of normality.

By providing easily accessible mental health support in the safety of the school environment, we can ensure that every young person gets the help they need, whenever they need it.

With thanks to Claire Gray, Headteacher, Holy Cross Primary School; Martin Broadley, Headteacher, St Monica’s (Milton) Primary School, Hazel Kinnear, Headteacher and Jacquie Ramsey, Deputy Headteacher, Tynecastle High School.

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