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What curriculum considerations need to be made as students return

Following the announcement on 19th June that all students are expected to return to school in September, Pauline Holbrook, Head of SEND at SSAT, considers what curriculum changes may need to be made as students return. This links to the work of Carpenter and Carpenter and the webinars of Professor Barry Carpenter and Dr Penny Barratt CEO, The Bridge London Trust.

There is a clear wish from the government for all students to return to school in September. How this will actually work in practice is still unknown. Will there still be a need to social distance and if so, will it be 1m/1.5m/2m? Or will we work in class bubbles and minimise the amount of movement around the school building which in turn may mean specialist staff going to the bubble? What is certain that whatever guidance we are asked to adhere to our students and staff will be our priority.

We cannot expect students and staff to return the same as they were when schools closed for the majority on 20th March. Much has been accomplished using online learning and communication tools to stay in touch and check in on the welfare of staff and students. Yet the daily lived experiences will be different for each student and indeed for members of staff. Some may have experienced the loss of close friends and family; others will have found the restrictions of lockdown difficult for other reasons.

Prior to Lockdown whenever we talked about curriculum, we tended to use the OFSTED terminology of intent, implementation and impact. However, now we talk about a recovery curriculum which has at its heart relationships.

Professor Barry Carpenter suggests the Recovery Curriculum is built on 5 Levers, as a systematic, relationships-based approach to reignite the flame of learning in each student.

  • Lever 1: Relationships – we can’t expect our students to return joyfully, and many of the relationships that were thriving, may need to be invested in and restored. We need to plan for this to happen, not assume that it will. Reach out to greet them, use the relationships we build to cushion the discomfort of returning.
  • Lever 2: Community – we must recognise that curriculum will have been based in the community for a long period of time. We need to listen to what has happened in this time, understand the needs of our community and engage them in the transitioning of learning back into school.
  • Lever 3: Transparent Curriculum – all of our students will feel like they have lost time in learning and we must show them how we are addressing these gaps, consulting and co-constructing with our students to heal this sense of loss.
  • Lever 4: Metacognition – in different environments, students will have been learning in different ways. It is vital that we make the skills for learning in a school environment explicit to our students to reskill and rebuild their confidence as learners.
  • Lever 5: Space – to be, to rediscover self, and to find their voice on learning in this issue. It is only natural that we all work at an incredible pace to make sure this group of learners are not disadvantaged against their peers, providing opportunity and exploration alongside the intensity of our expectations.

It is widely researched and reported that children who have anxiety issues or have faced trauma need to rebuild trust and need stable relationships together with routine and a sense of belonging. During a recent webinar Dr Penny Barratt, CEO, The Bridge London Trust advised schools to treat the day students and staff return as if it was their first day in the school. Take time to re-establish routines, expectations and get to know each other all over again. She also urged leaders to ensure that communication with families continued to at least as frequent as it had been when the students were undertaking home learning as they need to know why things are likely to be a little different.

Some schools have used tools such as Evidence for Learning to capture home learning. Using a tool such as this not only recognises families as partners in learning but also acknowledges the learning that has taken place so that new learning can build upon this. Returning to the routine and demands of school for some will be a huge challenge. Therefore, it is vital that leaders give permission to their staff to take time to reintegrate students especially those that are the most complex. And if the pace or demands are too great, they may require physical interventions to support their self-regulation and in the current climate this is something we should keep to a minimum. What we do know from experience is that a one size fits all does not work and whatever we do needs to be highly personalised to meet both learning and emotional needs.

The government has suggested that one of the safest places to be is outside and this is music to the ears of many schools who use Forest School and other outdoor learning frameworks. Even if you do not use one of these frameworks just think how much of your curriculum you could deliver outside – Story time, circle time, science activities, maths activities, PE could all take place in outside spaces.

Although it’s expected that the vast majority of staff and students will return in September the guidance for the most clinically vulnerable is still uncertain although the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have some helpful guidance. It will therefore be vital that high quality learning is planned for those learners who are to remain shielded, together with appropriate tasks for staff who are also required to remain shielded. Many of the students who will need to remain shielded are likely to include those who are least able to access online learning so conversations around how staff could be deployed to support learning in the home could be appropriate going forwards.

Whatever changes are being considered in terms of the content of the curriculum, delivery methods etc then it would seem prudent to make an addendum to your current curriculum documentation detailing the rational for the changes together with actual changes being made as we do not yet know when OFSTED will resume inspections.

However, we must always be ready to meet each and every student at their point of learning not where we think they are. This was brought home this evening as I watched the local news which came from a local mainstream secondary school where 40 of the students have lost close family members to Covid. We need to ensure our staff are ready to work with those who have/are experiencing loss, trauma, anxiety, anger or any other emotion or need. We need to focus on the learner as a whole person and not be blinkered on catch up as if students are not engaged due to unmet needs, they will not be effective learners.

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WATCH: SSAT Special Schools and SEND network webinar with Dr Penny Barratt

22 June 2020

WATCH: SSAT Special Schools and SEND network webinar with Surita Meyer

30 June 2020

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