Bouncing Back: Managing ‘loss’ in a more positive way

With so many offers of packages to support a so-called ‘recovery curriculum’ one SSAT school has looked to enhance its students’ return to school with a bespoke ‘Bounce Back’ approach.

‘Catch up’, ‘Recovery curriculum’ and ‘Reduce damage to learning’; three troubling phrases which landed in my inbox over the summer holiday. The language of post-Covid19 lockdown is disturbing to me as a Headteacher, as a linguist and as a parent myself. Whilst it’s true that considerable learning time has been lost, why dive straight for the negative connotations of the pandemic? Why put so much pressure on students to ‘recover’ the moment they set foot in the door? There’s a wealth of online packages ready to be purchased out there, but do they provide the tools that your students need? What about making the language more positive and pupil-engaging?

Newport Girls’ High School is an outstanding (2019) school for girls in the Midlands. Like many schools we embarked on a blended learning approach during lockdown and, thanks to high levels of student and parental engagement, most students have not actually ‘lost’ too much of their curriculum content. However, the sense of ‘loss’ which every student has endured weighed heavy on the minds and hearts of my colleagues. By loss we mean not just the death of a family member (which of course has happened), but the loss of free time, activities such as their weekly gymnastics and swimming and the absence of holidays and wider family gatherings. Our school already has a strong PSHE curriculum (including being an early adopter for SRE) and the absence of face-to-face PSHE teaching and our commitment to the subject’s importance meant we were not keen to forego this time and thus sought an alternative solution. In a ‘normal’ year, we normally insist that all year groups have two hours of PE to balance academic performance with positive mental health and exercise, but because the school building is small we are reliant on teaching larger cohorts in our sports hall. Bubbles and social distancing guidelines verified that our PE curriculum would need be reduced to one hour of practical PE per class per week, for now, and the second period was thus dedicated to our new programme.

Choosing the right title was vital to foster positive mindsets and the right use of language. We wanted to acknowledge the milestone of our students returning to school, but also hoped to inspire a solution-focused mentality. After consideration, I chose and timetabled ‘Bounce Back’ for every class and my Deputy Head, Hayley Clarke, set about devising a seven-week programme of lessons to positively build on lockdown experiences. The language of lockdown also featured at our staff INSET days with a presentation by Assistant Head Ann-Marie Davies to replace ‘covering ground’, ‘cramming in’ and ‘time lost’ with ‘consolidation’, ‘moving forward’ and ‘challenging our resilience’. This positive approach has already seen green-shoot effects as we welcomed the whole school back two weeks ago.

So what does our ‘Bounce Back’ entail? Seven bespoke hourly lessons start with an individual survey about pupils’ views on returning to school. The results are discussed individually with students and passed through the pastoral system of tutors and Wellbeing Officers as necessary. Whilst our pastoral team had kept in regular contact with lots of girls during lockdown, a few issues have come to light about which we had not been informed; such as the loss of immediate family members or mental health concerns having been at home for so long. After the initial survey, the Bounce Back sessions then develop to consider the way Covid19 has been reported in the media, the challenge of change, the resilience of animals, positive affirmations, mood busters, five ways to wellbeing, the worry tree and how to adopt an attitude of supporting others in a safe, controlled way. Feedback has been very positive from students, parents and governors and longer-term we hope it will enable students to strengthen their resolve, enhance their wellbeing and achieve their academic potential. With many students returning to school having suffered loss or experiencing anxiety about what the future holds, our Bounce Back curriculum hopefully goes some way to help the majority to discuss their fears, whilst also finding new ways to mature their character and resolve for the next stage in their education. And thanks to a few hours of careful brainstorming and planning, it hasn’t cost a penny!

Michael Scott, Headteacher, Newport Girls’ High School

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