The importance of pastoral care and enrichment in developing pandemic survival skills

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In a year that has been all about adhering rigidly to restrictions, how do we ensure that our pupils have the freedom to express themselves, explore ideas and develop skills beyond the curriculum? With health at the forefront of everyone’s mind, how do we keep pupils’ morale high and build mechanisms for them to check in with themselves and assess their mental fitness as well as physical health?

For most this has been a very challenging period and, even as adults, it has taken concerted effort to stay positive and continue with what can seem like mundane tasks in the midst of a global crisis. Coming to school may be the only semblance of normality for young people who have been forced to change their routines, not see their friends or extended family and cancel their weekend social activities or clubs. There is no substitute for face-to-face teaching but it is about so much more than the grades on paper – the academic and the pastoral aspects of any education are inextricably linked. We are passionate about the wellbeing of all our pupils, empowering each and every one of them with a personal toolkit to cope with the day to day challenges and demands that life throws at them.

As educators within a smaller school, we are able to get to know our pupils individually, building a strong rapport so that they feel noticed and are visible. There is no question that the pandemic has increased anxiety levels and with the uncertainty over further lockdowns, arrangements for public examinations, and many other unknowns, this has been an incredibly challenging time for young people. Feeling safe has always been paramount but it now includes the comfort of defined ‘bubble’ areas, the wearing of facemasks and hand sanitising as second nature. It is, however, opportunities to express how this period has made people feel that are invaluable, alongside the chance to engage with and explore interests, talents and passions. Our pastoral provision has been further enhanced and our co-curricular offer and school routines have been adapted to suit the needs of our pupils today. Our Body, Mind & Soul enrichment programme has taken on new importance. Year 9 have spent lunchtimes developing digital theatre pieces to discuss an aspect of time in lockdown that has impacted them, ready to film as part of a devised piece entitled ‘Opening Up’. Others have relished the opportunity to come together and focus on something other than Covid-19, be it through Gardening Club, Afro-Caribbean Society or Street Dance. The ability to gather as a school community for live streamed assemblies, including year group ‘take overs’, has been a cherished part of the school day, where once upon a time it may have been taken for granted.

As I supervise lunchtime Chess Club over Google Meet, a gymnast practises her contemporary routine in the Sports Hall, year 7 and 8 play socially distanced games on the astroturf, Coding Club pupils tap away in the Mac Suite and musicians prepare for their ABRSM examinations. I am reminded of how much is on offer to our pupils, whatever their passion, and how wonderful it is to have our pupils on site with us, in lessons, participating in school activities, face to face. We have all had to evolve and adapt to the new norms, to embrace new technologies and to be even more fearless and creative in this time of uncertainty and huge change and upheaval. Our pupils, however, have taken this all in their stride, embodying our ‘Fear Nothing’ motto. They continue to impress, continue to lead the way, continue to soak up the opportunities they have, demonstrating phenomenal resilience and determination along the way. They inspire me and right now I could not be more proud of each and every one of them.

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