Identifying schools offering high levels of social and emotional support
Post pandemic, parents & agents looking for suitable schools are facing the new challenge of prioritising provision for Social and Emotional support. For many schools, the obvious focus is on helping pupils catch up academically but forward thinking schools and colleges will take a more holistic approach. Building skills like self-awareness, empathy, resilience & communication are essential so that children are able to deal with the challenges the pandemic presented and be better prepared for new challenges they may face through enhanced emotional intelligence.
So how can parents & agents identify schools that are taking a more holistic educational approach, prioritising social and emotional development?
Does the school have a social and emotional ecosystem:
“Short term interventions rarely have long term impact so looking for schools that create a socially and emotionally supportive ecosystem are probably best placed to help children adjusting to post-pandemic education,’ says Mrs Sotiria. Vlahodimou, Deputy Head and SENCO Headteacher at Slindon College. “Such settings understand that there is no ‘rightway’ or ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to teaching or learning and will be offering a combination of whole-school, curriculum-based teaching, one to one support sessions and continuous liaisons, evaluations and reflections on individual strategies for pupils,” she adds.
Crucially, there is also a clear correlation between a high level of support both in and outside the classroom and academic success: As Andrew Roper, Principal of Kings Bournemouth highlights; “student A was supported by the welfare team after presenting with extreme low mental health, which resulted in social isolation, inability to concentrate, low motivation, unhealthy diet and poor attendance. We worked hard with this student ensuring we had regular conversations, helping him to access external talking therapies and gaining medication. By doing this student A’s mental health improved and he started to enjoy life and school life once more. He recently scored an A grade in his first year A level Maths paper.”
Smaller class sizes:
For some children, smaller learning environments could be key to helping students grow in confidence. Smaller classroom sizes means that each pupil is given time to contribute and their input is acknowledged, making them feel valued and respected.
Teaching Staff wellbeing is highly valued:
A good indicator of an emotionally and socially-minded school is the happiness and wellbeing of its staff. At Felsted school, the Wellbeing centre located in the heart of the school is available to not only pupils, but the school’s 300 staff too. As well as counselling support, the centre offers mindfulness & yoga classes.
Regular and active Communication with parents:
Understanding and supporting children’s home lives and family situations will result in the families being able to support their child’s learning and provide valuable consistency. Look for a school that has carried on with strong family communication post Covid. Many schools & colleges increased levels of communication whilst children were studying at home, but look out for those schools & colleges that have continued to build on this, post pandemic.
A Curriculum focus on SEAL:
Ascertaining if a school embeds Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) into the curriculum is also an important factor “The five main attributes of SEAL; Self-awareness;Self-regulation (managing feelings); Motivation; Empathy and Social skills should be taught to children who struggle with emotional resilience as it gives them an understanding of emotions; how they might be affected by them, and the impact that these feelings might have on their learning and others,” says Mrs Sotiria .Vlahodimou, from Slindon College.
Recognition of the importance of a highly trained guardian:
Schools that actively endorse the appointment of an accredited guardianship is also a useful indication that the school concerned values the additional pastoral care a fully engaged guardian can add, complementing the support offered at school. As Julia Evans, Director of Cambridge Guardian Angels points out; “an AEGIS Gold accredited guardian will not only give the school confidence that they will meet their obligations under the new National Minimum Standards (NMS2) but will also work with the school to proactively support the student’s non-academic needs. A key part of this is matching the student to a host family who can provide meaningful emotional support to the children in their care.”
And finally…a visit is essential
Clearly, during the pandemic school visits stopped, but now the world has opened up again, nothing can replace a school visit and many of the factors listed in this article can only be truly appreciated during a visit.
“A lot can be gained from seeing how the pupils interact with the staff. A visit to the school will help enormously and booking a personal tour or Open Day is a must. Watch how the pupils and staff greet each other in the corridors between lessons, and try to be at school during lunch or break time. If the school offers high levels of social and emotional support there will be a genuine connection, and it will show. A friendly exchange of greetings, a laugh and a joke, a game of football or cricket with a mix of staff and pupils at break will allow parents to get a feel for the real ethos of the school,” says Dr Faye Favill – SENCo at St David’s College.
It is clear that happier children, feeling more confident in their own unique abilities and their own sense of ‘self’ can only be achieved if a school has a genuine focus on social and emotional support. Future research will almost certainly lay bare the true impact of the pandemic on young people, but common sense would already indicate that social and emotional development has taken a big hit, not just academic progression. Indeed, major employers recruiting new graduates that studied during the pandemic are recognising this deficit and introducing additional training programmes to help them with their interpersonal and communication skills. So, the earlier schools can address this issue, the better for the future wellbeing and success of their students.
Pat Moores, Founder UK Education Guide
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This article is also published on ST Magazine’s web site.