Thrive is supporting an open letter to Gavin Williamson signed by dozens of experts in psychology and education which calls for the Education Secretary to prioritise children's social and emotional needs as the recovery from the disruptions of Covid-19 begins.
It comes as Mr Williamson confirmed he was considering introducing longer school days and shorter holidays to help pupils to catch up on lost learning after all children returned to school in England this week, with staggered returns taking place in the devolved nations.
At Thrive, we support the experts' letter and agree that sufficient funding and effective policy initiatives need to be put in place to enable all children to have a foundation of mental wellbeing from which they can engage with learning in order to reach, or even exceed, attainment goals.
The three-page letter was written in response to Mr Williamson's speech to the FED National Education Summit last week, in which he argued for the importance of 'improving and maintaining discipline' and 'traditional teacher-led lessons with children seated facing the expert at the front of the class'.
In their letter the psychologists warned that an emphasis on academic catch-up risked increasing the gap between children who have a safe and secure home life and those who may be struggling with trauma.
"Psychological research tells us that high levels of support alongside high expectations from adults will allow for a culture in which children can thrive. The phrase 'connection before correction' is used to explain how important it is to ensure that before any correction or 'challenge' the child needs to feel emotionally connected, known and valued by the adult. Without this relationship, the child may feel further disconnection and isolation which can lead to increased negative behaviour," it says.
In order to help children to recover from the upheavals of the last year, the letter calls for:
- Children to be given the opportunity to play and to catch up with friends and family.
- Mental wellbeing should be prioritised and talk of academic catch-up should be reframed to recognise the value of learning that has taken place at home.
- Schools should be given the time and resources to welcome children back and to rebuild their relationships and connections.
- The wellbeing of teachers and support staff should be prioritised.
- Recognition of the need for a solid foundation of mental wellbeing as vital to enabling effective learning to occur.
We also welcome comments in a blog from the new Children's Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel De Souza. Dame De Souza emphasises the importance of allowing children to catch up on 'the essential experiences of childhood' rather than putting pressure on them about falling behind or catching up with learning. At Thrive, we understand that connection, love and time, rather than pressure and worry, are what our children and young people need most now in order to thrive again.
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