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As a year six teacher, and leader of KS2 in a two-form entry school in Leeds, I have seen first-hand the long-term effects the pandemic and school closures have had on our pupils. At the time, I remember thinking that things could not get any harder than they already had been.

Initially, as a school, our biggest concern was ensuring our pupils received a carefully planned home learning curriculum. This took a lot of time and hard work from our teaching staff, who worked tirelessly to ensure all children, regardless of barriers in technology and varying personal circumstances were well catered for. We also wanted to ensure that our parents felt supported in their new roles, as educators at home.

Once we had ironed out home learning issues, we settled into a groove that worked for our school. Live learning via Microsoft Teams played a large part in this and it was all hands-on deck to ensure pupils across our school were provided with the paper, reading books and stationery needed to support them at home. At the time, I remember thinking that things could not get any harder than they already had been. We, as educators, were juggling the massive demands of lockdown learning, supporting our pupils through a difficult time and looking after our mental health. Not to mention trying to avoid catching the dreaded virus, with little to no PPE protection. My vivid memories of that time were that it felt frightening and that trying not to project those feelings onto the pupils in school was one of the most difficult tasks we faced.

As the various lockdowns passed, things were becoming easier for staff. Live lessons ran smoothly, key worker children were more relaxed and as a whole, it seemed we were adapting to the “new normal”. Beginning the term in September 2021 felt refreshing. We could handle it - we told ourselves. We’d worked tirelessly through the most unprecedented times in recent history and had coped (for the most part!). Little did we know that the challenges of covid that we had been facing were just the tip of the iceberg, especially for our pupils and their families.

Resilience (something which as British people, we feel we have in droves) was dwindling - in some cases, it was non-existent. Children were tearful and anxious, more so than we had ever seen. In my 12 years of teaching in the primary sector, I had never come across so many children who desperately needed to access some form of support for their mental health. Luckily we had somewhat anticipated this scenario and had ensured all staff had received bereavement training. We also timetabled half-termly meetings where we could discuss the specific well-being and support needs of each pupil in every year group. These initiatives helped us see the bigger picture of our school, however every day it felt like we were stumbling across new and unexpected fallouts from the pandemic.

In EYFS, we noticed that many children were struggling to make friends. Socialising with peers was something these children only had limited access to. Therefore, most of the Autumn term was dedicated to ensuring this important skill was modelled and embedded for our very youngest pupils. Further up the school in KS1 and LKS2, we saw significant academic gaps, specifically in writing. As the leader of literacy in school, I had worked hard with all teachers, to ensure reading and writing were high on our agenda when planning lockdown work. However, regardless of the quality of planning, being unable to offer direct in-person teaching and feedback had greatly affected spelling, handwriting and most considerably, stamina. The fundamentals of writing had suffered, and this was a trend noticed in schools across the country.

It was in UKS2 that we found lots of support was needed regarding mental health and wellbeing. We take our eldest pupils – years five and six, on a residential each December and noticed that the majority of pupils were worried about leaving home and struggled while we were there, especially at night. It seemed that all the time at home during lockdown without opportunities for sleepovers etc had impacted these children. They were genuinely anxious to be away from the comforts of home and although they all had a brilliant time when busy through the day, the night times were difficult and their ability to push themselves out of their comfort zones was unlike anything we had seen in previous years.

Parental relationships with the school have also taken quite a staggering hit. For the past two years, we have been unable to invite our parents and carers into school to watch assemblies, visit classes, or even enjoy Sports Day. This lack of face-to-face contact has caused visible cracks in the home-school relationship. Parents are less engaged in online meetings and parent’s evenings – they are more sensitive to issues that arise in school, and we have found an increase in minor complaints and queries. The trust between school and home seems to have widened and we know as a leadership team, that this fundamental relationship needs mending before we can ever get back to a semblance of normality.

So, as businesses and workplaces around the country seem to settle into this new post-covid world, spare a thought for your schools. We are still juggling the aftereffects of home learning, bereavement, and the huge mental strain this has put upon our future generation. Our roles as educators have always come with many hats to wear, but now more than ever our primary role as teachers of knowledge has taken a backseat while we navigate this new and precarious future. We are still juggling the aftereffects of home learning, bereavement, and the huge mental strain this has put upon our future generation.

 

For more articles like this, subscribe to Everything Curriculum, our FREE magazine for primary school teachers.