Every child has the right to a full-time education and for the vast majority of children that should be provided in a school. There is robust evidence that it is safer for children to be in school than out of it, and that their educational and health outcomes will benefit as a result. Overall, NCB believes that the reopening of schools is an important step on the road to recovery.
But these general facts must not be used to devalue the anxiety that individual children and parents may be feeling. We must balance what we know about the benefits of returning to school with a consideration of the unique circumstances of every child. Above all, we should avoid a punitive approach and NCB calls on the government to immediately rule out fines for parents for the non-attendance of children in the Autumn term.
To make the return to school a positive experience, parents and schools must put the voice of children at the heart of the process
- Some children will return having have experienced trauma or loss. Bereaved children may have particular worries, such as the health of surviving family members. Children, parents and school staff should plan together about how the news will be shared with the rest of the class, any specific worries they have, and who the child can talk to if they get overwhelmed.
- Some children may be more likely to display challenging behaviour in these early days, including children with mental health difficulties or autism. It is essential that we do not see a rise in exclusions or off-rolling, and clear guidance from government on the need to avoid this would be very welcome. Schools will need to pay particular attention to bullying at this time.
- Some children may now be in circumstances where they cannot face a sudden return to school and need more support to manage the transition. These children have a right to be listened to and have their views taken into account. Parents and professionals should deal with this sensitively with a view to allaying children’s fears and finding the way back to education that works best for each child.
NCB’s support for return to school is not unconditional: schools must be enabled to prioritise wellbeing ahead of academic progress, giving children the time and space to rebuild relationships with others, to play and build resilience.
The Government must allow schools to make time for this, and continue to offer training and resources to do this effectively. This includes support to implement the long- awaited Relationships, Sex, and Health Education curriculum which is needed now more than ever.
Only once children feel safe and secure can the long task of getting back on track with their education truly begin.
NCB resources to support the return to school:
- Bereavement - The Childhood Bereavement Network has published guidance on supporting bereaved children during the outbreak.
- SEND - The Council for Disabled Children have published a page with useful resources from across the children's sector to support the return to school, accompanied by a statement from Dame Christine Lenehan.
- Mental health and wellbeing - The Schools Wellbeing Partnership in consultation with the Department for Education, have developed toollkits to help primary and secondary schools and colleges to work through the key considerations to support mental health and wellbeing as all pupils begin to return to school full time. The resources are available here.