The start of any academic year is always filled with excitement, enthusiasm and, to a degree, nervousness.
The challenges of September arise as far back as April when the new intake are offered places but really begin as soon as pupils arrive on the first day of term.
With pupils having been away for the summer, schools will need to deal with any issues that this has presented.
Challenges come in many forms, though largely fall into the categories of safeguarding, mental health and behaviour.
With pupils having had six weeks off, safeguarding should be at the forefront of your mind. Show an interest in what pupils have been doing during their time away from school, listen and observe.
Be aware of imbalances of power between individuals which could lead to a child being exploited. Also be aware that an increase in a child’s free time generally goes hand-in-hand with an increase in online usage, which presents an increased risk of exposure to sexual exploitation and online grooming. Ensure children are taught how to keep safe and become resilient in all situations.
To begin to identify these challenges, look for changes in a child’s behaviour. Changes in the home and away from school may impact upon wellbeing or development. It is important to be vigilant and take note of any changes in behaviour that cause concern. Ensure staff understand potential vulnerability factors, recognise signs and know how to respond if they have concerns.
With pupils having had six weeks off, safeguarding should be at the forefront of your mind
Another key challenge to be aware of is the issue of anxiety. For many years, mental health in young people has been a growing concern and is now becoming a subject widely being spoken about. Anxiety, low mood, depression and self-harm are all issues which you should ensure you are familiar with. New year 7s will all be feeling anxious about starting at a new school. For some this can be manageable but for others this can be debilitating – their smooth transition will be a priority.
If a pupil is struggling with their mental health, their ability and attitude to learning will be affected, as will their attendance. For this reason, supporting a child with poor mental health is paramount. Whilst conversation surrounding mental health is increasing, support in school settings is still catching up. To ensure you are equipped for this, think outside the box, look at the support available locally, work with other schools and share resources.
With the introduction of the new Ofsted inspection framework, the issue of mental wellbeing is also something you should consider from a staff perspective.
It is important new staff members have an induction process which clearly sets out their role, the boundaries, and what is safe and unsafe practice. All staff members should feel confident in reporting issues about workload and should feel supported with any wellbeing issues.
As new children arrive at school there can also be behaviour challenges to deal with. Be aware of any changes to the dynamic in the playground and signs of bullying as children vie to assert their authority.
It’s crucial to remember that whilst bullying may present itself in September, it should be prevented all year round. From the start of the new term onwards, encourage children to speak out if they are being bullied or are aware of bullying taking place. Raise pupils’ awareness of bullying by developing a student voice which focuses on anti-bullying. Involve students in developing the school’s anti-bullying policy and hold regular anti-bullying assemblies.
Your school should be an environment in which pupils feel safe, and in which bullying, discrimination and exploitation are not accepted and are dealt with quickly, consistently and effectively.
In order to alleviate challenges and understand when support may be needed, look to build professional relationships with children and families. It is also important that you have a team in place in which staff can raise concerns with, ask for advice, support or a second opinion.
The issues discussed above arise every academic year, so forward planning should see you well equipped for dealing with them once September comes around.
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