WEEK 23 - Friday 11 March 2022
It is around two years ago now that we first began to contemplate ‘lockdown’. At the time, few of us had much idea of what this would mean and certainly none of us would imagine that we would still be talking about, and dealing with, Covid in Spring 2022. As we step gingerly into a world which looks at least slightly like 2019 or before, we are still dealing with some of the longer-term consequences of Covid and one of these is school attendance.
Yesterday, 92.4% of our students were in school. This has been rising steadily since our low point this year when attendance for a few days in January was as low as 84%. Whilst we are delighted at the upward trend, this is still way below our ‘normal’ levels of attendance. Pre-pandemic, our typical attendance across a whole year was between 95%-96% - broadly the national average and we were working very hard, with parents, to keep this high and push it higher still.
Since the pandemic began there have been some deep-rooted psychological changes that perhaps explain lower attendance. Clearly, in March 2020, we were all told to go home and stay home. Over several further lockdowns, the idea of being at home and working from home became the norm and there was perhaps some mixed messaging about whether businesses or Government wanted people to work at home or in the workplace. In schools, we have partially contributed to that. On the one hand, myself and my colleagues tell students and parents that school is where they need to be and then, on occasion, we tell students to go home because they have a symptom of something that might be covid or because they have sat near someone who has covid. We know that students are better in school but the clarity of message has not always been there.
Nevertheless, school is where young people need to be, and never more so than right now. I resist the urge to talk about ‘missed’ learning or the ‘lost’ generation as this just labels our young people; nevertheless, there is an urgency in schools to give our students the very best chance in life.
Before the pandemic hit, we were rewriting our Key Stage 3 curriculum. In the meetings where we discussed the content, you could feel the excitement in the air. We were introducing new topics, new themes, new connections between subjects that we believed would really engage students in Years 7, 8 and 9 and give them a thirst for lifelong learning. Students in Year 7 English lessons for instance would be studying Oliver Twist but, at the same time, also learning about the context of Victorian England in order to better understand what it was like to be a child in the 1800s. In Spanish, they would be learning the usual grammar and vocabulary but also exploring life in Spanish-speaking South America, studying the culture, food and people. History lessons would have a much more local focus, enabling students to better understand the region they come from and an appreciation of the role that people from Hessle, Hull and Yorkshire have had on the world. It is all very exciting and left most of us teachers wishing that we could go back to school and study it all over again. And then Covid arrived.
It would not be true to say that our plans were wrecked but it certainly didn’t help as our teachers then needed to consider how all of these exciting concepts could be taught online and then, once the students returned, the priority became ‘catch up’ and filling in the gaps.
Thankfully, we are just about back to ‘normal’ now. Attendance is on the rise, staffing is stable and we have a good understanding of where the students are in terms of prior, and covid-acquired, knowledge. We have made some adjustments but we are now able to fully deliver the curriculum in the way that we had intended. Over the coming months, we intend to share some of this content with you, alongside our school reports. This will give you a sense of what is being studied and enable you to have more informed discussions with your child about the work they are doing in school. Which brings me back to attendance.
There are so many learning opportunities available to students in schools, way beyond the five lessons per day. School sports teams are beginning to pick up fixtures more frequently, clubs are restarting and the school library has begun to offer books for loan once again. Who would want to miss any of that?
There are many reasons why students do not attend school - most are genuine illness or other exceptional circumstances but there are also some which are avoidable. Often, when we delve into the reasons why a student hasn’t come to school, we discover that the reason is fairly trivial to us, although it is a major issue for the child. It often involves a peer fallout or concern about a subject lesson that the student will face that day. These are issues that can be resolved very quickly and with just a little bit of support from our student services team, provided we know about it. Also, it is vital to minimise every session of learning. For example, if a dental appointment is made for the morning, we would expect the student to be back in school for the afternoon, and vice versa. If we all start with the expectation that we will be in school every day, we are setting the highest aspirations for ourselves.
Finally, our students have continued to follow and discuss what is going on in Ukraine. This week, some of our staff have produced blue and yellow ribbons and have been selling them in aid of the disaster relief charities and it has been nice to see students wearing these around the school. It is also inspiring to hear our young people empathising with people in Eastern Europe who are living under such horrific circumstances and wanting to show their support. I make sure I find time to discuss this with my own eleven year old son who is keen to know how this happened and what might happen next. I would rather that he lived in a world where he didn’t need to think about these things but I feel a responsibility, just as we do as teachers, to ensure that our children are able to read, listen, think and empathise. Maybe that will help them to ensure that we one day live in a world where people do not go to war.
Have a lovely weekend.