School a beacon of hope in challenging times

After what has been the strangest academic year of any of our lives, it can be tempting to focus on the negative effects that five months of lockdown might have had on young people.

The media is full of talk of months of ‘lost learning’ and with dire predictions about what this might mean for the generation affected by the pandemic. We believe the most powerful ingredient in a fantastic education is hope. As educators, we continue to hope for the best for the young people already in our care, and for those who will be joining us as they take their first steps into Big School. But this is not simply a blind hope – it is hope based on all of the positive things that we have seen come out of the challenging times of the last few months. 

Sometimes these moments of hope have come from the most unlikely of places. The student who sometimes seemed disinterested at school, but attended every live lesson that we taught online. The student who posted a kind comment about a peer, even as they were stuck in their houses miles away from one another. And the smiles on the faces of so many students who have begun to return as we re-open school safely for a new school year. 

There are so many signs of hope, even in these darker times, that we cannot help but be optimistic. Our message to our returning students is uplifting and positive, as well as reassuring that we will simply not allow them to be a generation defined by a once-in-a-lifetime lockdown. Perhaps it is more helpful to begin to think of what has come out of the closure of schools that might make this generation the most resilient of all to life’s challenges. During the past few months, schools have begun to innovate like never before, making the best use of technology possible, discovering new ways for students to interact and work together, and making school more efficient in supporting students in their learning. Teachers have upskilled themselves in developing digital lessons, in opening up the curriculum, and in building relationships with students even when they have not been in the same building. 

This generation of students, too, will be tougher than ever due to what they have been through. In years to come, when they face the pressures of exams or the uncertainty of the job market, they will be able to draw on the reserves of resilience that they have built up in these challenging times. Any other obstacle that they face will pale in comparison to the difficulties of continuing their education with such barriers placed before them – yet so many young people have continued to thrive despite them. In difficult times, we have so much that has made us proud of our schools, but even more importantly of our students.

For the group of students about to move from primary school to Big School, the daunting jump to a new building, new teachers, new routines and new friends can be tough enough. Adding the missing months of school for so many students could make things feel overwhelming. But as you speak to your children about this incredible point of change in their lives, we would urge you to think about the strange year that 2020 has been with hope. We understand that the lockdown has been difficult, and as headteachers we would like to express thanks for the important role that you have played in making students’ lives easier as they make the move to Big School. 

Our children are stronger that we know, have limitless capacity to succeed, and with the right mixture of high expectations and compassion, they will make us proud, and make this a year to remember for all of the right reasons.

Principal’s tips for starting Big School

  • Rachael Sandham, principal of The Hart School in Rugeley, offers her advice. 
  • Settle nerves by – being organised, being on time and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s natural to be nervous about new things, but it always helps if you get organised. Get things ready for the first day – like uniform and equipment. It will really help your confidence if you know you’re ready for anything. 
  • Never be afraid to ask for help – If you don’t have the confidence to speak to new people don’t worry, we’ve all been there. All teaching staff want is for students to feel comfortable as quickly as possible – so there is never any reason to fear approaching them. 
  • Getting to school on time from the very first day is vital. This will help you to get your bearings in good time and will help to prevent any added feelings of nervousness. n Set achievable goals – These can be easy goals to start with – such as knowing all your teachers by the end of the first week, to making sure you don’t miss any homework during your first half term. When you beat these goals, it helps to build up your confidence. But when you don’t meet goals, it’s important not to beat yourself up over them. Instead, learn what went wrong. 
  • Embrace new opportunities – Get involved with as many activities as possible. This is a great way of meeting new people. 
  • Hit the ground running – At the end of the day, it’s still school. Teachers, lessons, the building, may all be different, but the learning never changes. It doesn’t take long for things to feel normal and then you’ll be well on the way to making progress.
  • Make the most of every moment – you only get to experience school for a short part of your life and it’s there to offer you as many opportunities and chances to develop skills as possible.