Returning in a new spirit

Photo: iStock.com/FamVeld

The return to school will be harder for children than after the last lockdown, foresees Colin Baty, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst. But it is also the time to take a fresh approach to how children learn.

There has been much debate about the best time to reopen schools to all pupils. There remains a difference of opinion between MPs when weighing-up the issues of public health, mental health, educational progress and overall pupil welfare. Everyone is at least united in the belief that school is, ultimately, where all children should be.

When I hear these debates played out in the media, I see the shadow of a dichotomy that has haunted education in this country in recent years. Bluntly, the ‘traditionalist’ view that school is for the accumulation and testing of knowledge, versus the ‘progressive’ view that the experience should be designed around the individual and their proclivities and needs. I simplify, of course, in the interests of brevity, but it is with these twin imperatives in mind that I think about what we will do – and how we will do it – when our schools can function fully once again.

We must avoid thinking about lockdown simply as time lost in which children could, and should, have been getting up to speed for tests and entrance exams. This is not to say we consider learning as unimportant – far from it, in fact. Rather, we find ourselves right now needing to prioritise the wellbeing of the young people in our care. There are growing fears concerning the impact of lockdown on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people with increased levels of distress, worry and anxiety, combined with feelings of loneliness.

We would do well however to remember that before this pandemic the mental health of children and young people was already a grave concern in this country. Several high profile reports and publications put child mental health in the spotlight, with the incumbent pressures which come from examinations and testing at so many stages of a child's development. We should therefore be very careful before we uncritically prescribe schools as the balm that will soothe away the pain of lockdown in young people. I would say that rather depends on what we do and how we do it.

Colin Baty is Headmaster of Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst.