The day has finally arrived. After a long winter of lockdown, classrooms are filled with students again, corridors are buzzing with chatter, and pupils are rediscovering a love of learning. The country has gone back to school.
Many students have quickly settled into their old school routine. However, some are inevitably finding it more difficult. In general, children love routine, structure and socialising with their peer group. But after months at home, some will have lost their academic confidence. Others will be worried about friendships, and the uncertainty around A Levels and GCSEs. Meanwhile, teachers have reported an ‘epidemic’ of demotivation during lockdown as a result of remote lessons and a lack of social contact.
Covid measures are also a source of anxiety for some children. Face masks, Covid tests and social bubbles may be around for the foreseeable future, but for some they are adding to the back-to-school pressure.
If your child is finding it tricky to get back into the classroom routine, don’t panic. Here are a variety ways to help them find their feet.
Concentration at school
Parents have noticed that children’s ability to sit still and concentrate has deteriorated over the past year. While this is concerning, now children are back in physical classrooms it is likely that their concentration will rapidly improve. By their very nature, in-person lessons are usually more engaging than lessons conducted via screen – particularly ones where children are allowed to turn their cameras off. On school premises, teachers can also keep a closer eye on pupils to ensure they are staying on task and talk to parents if they are concerned.
Plus, it is not all doom and gloom: months of lockdown may well have forced children to become more self-sufficient when it comes to studying. Several months of independent learning may have imparted skills that they would never have developed in normal circumstances.
If your child or teenager is fidgety and struggling to focus, it is helpful to allocate set periods of time for homework activities. For example, setting aside 30 minutes before dinner to focus on a Maths exercise. Phones and tablets are the nemesis of concentration, so try to keep children away from their devices when they are studying at home. Having a quiet area in the house where children can work in peace is also important – if not always possible to achieve.
This is a problem for lots of young children who feel like they are starting school all over again. To get them back into the swing of things, try to ease them back into a sense routine and remind them how much they used to enjoy school before lockdown hit.
Psychologist Professor Tanya Byron suggests writing a note and popping it in their school bag or lunch box to settle them. It is also helpful to have a calm morning schedule so they are in the right mindset when they set off for school. Just ensuring that their school bags are packed the night before and that their uniform is laid out can make a real difference – as can making something nice for breakfast.
In all likelihood, separation anxiety will wear off after a week or so. However, if it lingers – or gets worse – it might be worth speaking to the school.
Lockdown has been filled with screens. Children had lessons online, socialised online and even – in some cases – exercised while staring at a screen. A report by the Guardian says that screen time soared during the pandemic, with website and app visits in the UK more than doubling in January 2021 compared with the same time last year.
School is a perfect time to reduce children’s dependence on technology, and to help them re-engage with the real world. Homework and dinner time should be screen-free zones, and many psychologists advise that parents remove devices from children’s bedrooms overnight. For teenagers, it might be worth buying an alarm clock so they don’t have to rely their phone to wake them up in the morning.
Given the intermittent nature of schooling this year, many students will have fallen out of touch with friends, or will be worried that the social dynamics of the classroom has changed. As we’re still not allowed to arrange play dates or meet in each others houses, it is hard to know how to help in this department. Ultimately, however, most children will just need some time to find their feet in the social arena. If your child is just starting school, remind them what makes a good friend and perhaps give them idea some break time ideas, including how to approach schoolmates to play.
For older children, remind them that they can talk to you about any friendship issues and encourage them to use social media responsibly, rather than banning it outright.
A number of new measures are now in place at schools across the country, which might feel strange or scary – particularly for younger children, or those with vulnerable relatives. Secondary school students are now taking part in asymptomatic Covid testing, which means all pupils in Year 7 and above will have taken three Covid-19 tests on school grounds. After the initial programme of three tests in school or college, students will be given two rapid tests to use each week at home. Staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are also advised to wear face masks in all areas, including classrooms.
This is a big change from what children are used to. However, once they get over the original strangeness, the scariness should wear off. Explain to your child that the precautions have been put in place to keep them safe, and set out how the measures will affect their day-to day-lives for the next weeks and months.
Exam anxiety and school
A lot remains unclear about this year’s GCSE and A Level qualifications. Exams watchdog Ofqual has confirmed that results are to be decided teachers, who can use a combination of tests, coursework and written assignments to evaluate their pupils. Schools will also be able to use questions set by exam boards to determine grades.
Over the past few of weeks, schools have been developing action plans around how to assess students in the months ahead. Exam season is a stressful time for all pupils and tensions will inevitably be running high. However, remind your teenager that students around the country are in the same boat and everyone is facing the same uncertainty.
To help teenagers prepare the best they can, suggest they try some past papers – many of which are available for free on exam board websites. Meanwhile, if they are struggling with a particular topic, encourage them to raise this with their school teachers. Alternatively, one-to-one tuition could help bring them up to speed ahead of this term’s assessment period.