Back to School
As an educator and parent I absolutely love this time of year. The opportunity and excitement that the new academic year gives to us all. Whether it is a love of stationery or the chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh, September and a new school year is like standing on the edge of a cliff with… ?
Now, that is where the differences really begin. For me it is the dawn of a new horizon, the road to endless new and exciting possibilities with as many safety nets and support networks as I need and can offer, but many others have a totally different viewpoint. Hanging on to the cliff edge too afraid to let go or slipping down into a murky pool of doom with no idea how to get out or get through.
I know that all sounds very dramatic but with the weight of the past few years in our young people’s minds and expectations, it is not surprising that young people continue to struggle. It is our responsibility to provide the guidance and support to help to change the perspective of all, to see the many exciting opportunities that our schools have to offer.
Prior to the pandemic absence from school was at an average of 4.7% but absence from school is now considered by some as the new epidemic, rising to an average of 7.6% 2022/23. We need to help to change the attendance of young people at school. Let’s firstly consider ‘why’? We were told we needed to stay at home for an extended period, stay away from people and that we needed to do everything in our homes including education and working. We all did our best, but we know that in comparison to what our young people learn and access in the classroom, our best was a quick fix for an unusual situation and not a lifelong change. Not only did our young people miss out on education- which we are attempting to solve with government grants and more tuition identification of knowledge gaps, but they missed out on valuable socialising.
School offers a safe environment for learning, making mistakes, making friends, socialising in the present and many extra-curricular opportunities. Let’s all help to support our young people to have excellent attendance and a fulfilling school life. So how can we do that?
Show the young person in your life a level of understanding as to why it might be so difficult for them. Ask them what their fears are and don’t brush them off as silly. I read a description which has stayed with me; for someone who is afraid of socialising we are asking them to sit in a room with the thing they are most afraid of, for you it might be spiders for me it would be fireworks. The fear is real so are the physiological feelings that we all get with fear.
Reach out to them and to the adults at your child’s school. Work together; many schools will have counsellors or teachers that your young person could speak to. Use grounding and breathing strategies to help. If you are changing schools then ask to speak to the person in charge of transition, ask for more visits to the school, make the school as familiar as possible. Also remember that on the first day of school everyone going into the building will have butterflies, including the teachers!
Reward and praise!! Come up with a reward strategy that works for you and yours. What does that mean? For some just going to school on a day-by-day basis will warrant a reward, getting up on time, getting ready, leaving the house without a meltdown. For others a reward will come after a full week at school, a full month, half a term. Reward can come in many forms according to our own budget and individuality.
Attendance is not an issue for all. Thankfully and if we can all aim for 98% attendance (100% is obviously perfect!!) then everything is fine. Sadly, that is not always the case. Actively encourage your young person to be as involved with as many extra-curricular activities as possible. If you are sat with a sporty young person then that feels like an easier task to achieve but there are so many options for non-sporty minded people: STEM, Science, Drama, Music , Art, Languages, Environmental, Robotic Lego, Geography, Computing, the list is endless.
Ask your school for a timetable and encourage your young person to at least try one thing. If you know that they will not be brave enough to go to something new, then ask for help from the pastoral team to help them to go through the door for the very first time. We all need to feel that we belong to the community that we go to every day.
Within the first couple of weeks the routines will be established, so we are attending every day, we have a new school club that we go to, we have new friends, we have homework and new classes. Can we expect everything to be running smoothly? For some-yes-but others even the mention of the word homework is enough to send everything spinning back into that murky hole. So, let’s ask; Is the problem the actual homework or just the idea of doing the more work when your young person gets home?
If the homework is just too challenging, then back to the school we must go and ask for help. If it is the idea of doing homework, then we need to support our young person as homework is essential. It is a way to embed knowledge into people’s brains. By the time young people get to take any assessments there are several years of knowledge that they will need to recall. It is also where we can see what the young person can do outside of the supportive network of the classroom and teachers can then identify gaps that need filling to support achievement. When we do well, we have that intrinsic feeling of success.
To help to achieve this success we can put homework as part of the routine; where are they going to do the homework? Maybe an after-school homework club might be the perfect place or is it the school library? If you are still working from home then a space next to each other. You will have access to the online portal where many schools will share your young persons homework with you both. Discuss the homework with them, have conversations,
Well done, you have navigated your way through the beginning of a new academic year, new uniform, new routines, new school and new stationery! But where is the enjoyment of the summer holidays, the time with your young person? That also needs putting into the routine of the new academic year. During the summer holiday I embraced electronic games (with my 14 year old) and find myself the proud owner of a dinosaur park and played tennis with my sporty 9 year old. It is important that we continue to be kind to ourselves and each other. Make Friday a movie night, go for a walk on Saturdays, take note of the colour changes from summer into autumn, just chat about the week. Whatever it is that you do make sure it is part of the new academic year routine and make 2023/24 a real success.
Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing is where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold for four seconds and repeat. This is a technique which has been used by elite organisations for many years, including the US Navy Seals, to reduce anxiety and stress in challenging situations.
Once you find your breath, go through the following steps, counting backwards from five to one to help ground yourself.
5 – Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you
4 – Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you
3 – Acknowledge THREE things you hear
2 – Acknowledge TWO things you can smell
1 – Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste