Throughout the pandemic, we all bore witness to the vital importance of schools within local communities, as they evolved into so much more than education. From distributing essential digital devices, to volunteering at regional vaccination centres, teachers, staff and students across both the independent and state sector rallied to join forces and support the most vulnerable groups during an incredibly challenging time.
Whilst the academic impact of school closures can and should not be underestimated, the increased remit of schools persists beyond the pandemic, as does their closer relationships with communities. As the UK’s youth mental health crisis reaches breaking point, with approximately 1.5 million under-18s needing new or additional help with their mental wellbeing as a direct result of Covid-19, schools are facing a fresh wave of students needing extra support.
As the UK’s youth mental health crisis reaches breaking point… schools are facing a fresh wave of students needing extra support
Given this shift in focus, as well as a newly revised Ofsted inspection framework, what other measures can we use to redefine success as a more holistic and well-rounded approach to achievement in schools; and what tools might help teachers and school leaders achieve refreshed visions?
A key marker of Ofsted’s criteria centres on behaviour and attitudes, stating that providers should have “high expectations for learners’ behaviour and conduct… an environment where bullying, peer-on-peer abuse or discrimination are not tolerated”. With a recent surge in documented incidents of online hate speech, schools should do all they can to foster a welcoming, inclusive environment, in which students of all backgrounds and identities feel safe and nurtured.
Helping students to develop a solid understanding of issues including bullying, grooming and substance abuse can be key to establishing a secure learning environment. With the aid of suites of free online resources which pupils can access on their own terms, pupils can gain the essential digital (and offline) citizenship skills necessary to treat fellow learners and peers with respect. Becoming more well-rounded, kind and accepting future citizens will allow children to establish stronger relationships, both personally and professionally, enabling further success in many aspects of their lives.
Helping students to develop a solid understanding of issues including bullying, grooming and substance abuse can be key to establishing a secure learning environment
As previously referenced, soaring rates of mental illness and mental ill health in children and young people are prompting schools around the country to refresh their wellbeing strategies and ethos. With a new study by researchers at UCL finding that independent school pupils are equally as affected by issues with self-esteem or mood, and score equal levels of happiness as their state peers, it’s key that teachers and leaders in the private sector stay afloat of concerns and updates.
For students facing mental health or wellbeing struggles, some digital solutions can offer an additional stream via which to gain support from trusted teachers. Some young people can struggle with feelings of shame, but sharing concerns confidentially can afford them a sense of security and combat any embarrassment.
… a new study by researchers at UCL [find] that independent school pupils are equally as affected by issues with self-esteem or mood
With the University of Glasgow launching a new project aimed at examining the “collective trauma” of Covid on children, lecturer Christine Hadfield pointed to the increased awareness gained over the previous two-and-a-half years of the importance of emotional and mental wellbeing. Underpinning everyone’s ability to interact, function and succeed in life, children’s wellbeing must be prioritised, measured and valued as highly as any academic definition of success if we are to give them the best foundation from which to thrive in live.
Incorporating alternative measures of success to expand what we mean by a ‘successful’ school, doesn’t mean doing away with data altogether, but rather calls for a birds-eye view of what this data means for the learners and educators behind it. Academic achievement is, of course, hugely important, as well as a privilege, but we can’t overlook the importance of cultivating wider social values and traits of confidence, conscientiousness, concern for others and community – none of which can be measured or tracked.
Al Kingsley is CEO of NetSupport, chair of Hampton Academies Trust and member of the Regional Schools Directorate Advisory Board for the East of England