Prof Sonia Blandford, Founder and CEO of Achievement for All, kicks off our build-up to World Mental Health Day with a reflection on the “new normal” facing learning communities, and the critical importance of putting wellbeing at the heart of learning

2020 continues to be a year like no other, with the COVID-19 global pandemic experienced by society at large, perhaps the greatest impact over time is on the wellbeing of the current generation of children, those who ultimately will be responsible for all our futures. 

The response to the pandemic by governments across the UK has been varied in terms of – lockdown and curfews, transport and travel, employment and home working, recreation and leisure, and face to face engagement within families and friends.

“We are getting reports from all over the country of school leaders being so grateful to reconnect with their AfA coaches…lockdown has been an incredibly tough and lonely experience for many…”

Marius Frank- Director of E-Learning Achievement for All

The singular consistent message has been school openings. Following five months of online learning for the majority face to face delivery of children’s education has been encouraged since the start of the school year (August and September 2020).  The aim of return to school has been predominantly to limit the impact of COVID-19 on academic learning.  Several reports have indicated a dramatic end to any previous gains in closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers[1][2][3]. In England, the government has promised an investment of 1billion pounds to counter the impact on learning of school closures through an externally led National Tutoring programme [4].

It is axiomatic that constant changes to the rhythm of a child’s daily routine will impact on their wellbeing, an area where schools are in greatest need of support.  We read daily of the physical impact of COVID-19 on schools, with the emphasis on the increasing time away from lessons [5], and threat to the health of teachers and teaching assistants [6], yet there is limited reporting on the impact of the pandemic on children’s wellbeing. The University of Colorado commentary, Pandemics differ from other disasters in that they generally affect a larger number of people, threat to life is prolonged, and illness and mortality come in waves, not all at once. There is an erosive effect due to the constant and prolonged exposure to stress, alerts us of the dangers ahead[7]

For schools, the message is clear, wellbeing is at the heart of learning:

Put simply, we are all familiar with the African proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’[8].  In the current context the village is the child’s school, possibly the only contact with anyone other than their immediate family. 

COVID-19 has directed us towards a ‘new normal’ when planning in how schools (the village) can prepare a child for the future [9]the emphasis is on personal development, communication skills, sell-efficacy, self-regulation, all central to the Achievement for All Core Strength model that underpins our wellbeing programme designed to support all children as they experience unprecedented challenges in their lives.

Investment in wellbeing would meet the immediate, medium- and long-term needs of children.

Children from birth to adulthood need wellbeing to counter the negative in their lives[10].  Core strength is needed if a child is to learn.

If we are to meet the needs of all children touched by the Covid-19 crisis, and support the emotional wellbeing and mental health of every teacher, non-teacher and leader in our dedicated and committed education workforce spanning colleges to early years, we need to put wellbeing at the heart of learning now.

Prof Sonia Blandford

Founder and CEO Achievement for All

Visit afaeducation.org to learn more about our leadership development and professional training approaches that have reached nearly six thousand education settings over nearly a decade.

[1] https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/wps/WP202026-Inequalities-childrens-experiences-home-learning-during-COVID-19-lockdown-England.pdf

[2] https://www.nfer.ac.uk/schools-responses-to-covid-19-pupil-engagement-in-remote-learning/

[3] https://www.nfer.ac.uk/schools-responses-to-covid-19-pupil-engagement-in-remote-learning/

[4] https://nationaltutoring.org.uk/faqs.

[5] https://www.parentkind.org.uk/News/Parentkind-survey-finds-parents-want-more-say-in-how-their-child-returns-to-school

[6] https://schoolsimprovement.net/coronavirus-majority-of-teaching-assistants-feel-unsafe-in-london-schools-says-union-survey/

[7] https://medschool.cuanschutz.edu/psychiatry/about/in-the-news/mind-the-brain/how-covid-19-is-a-unique-threat-to-mental-health

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_takes_a_village

[9] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Schools_of_the_Future_Report_2019.pdf

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/24/my-familys-history-reveals-the-terrible-toll-a-pandemic-takes-on-mental-health