Category Archives: reception class teachers

End of school year 2020/21

I have just finished work with my group of nurture children for this academic year. Like everyone in education in September 2020, I had no idea how this year would work out. My colleagues and I work with children who have been recognised as having additional social, emotional, mental health needs. I was pretty fearful in September about how we would navigate through the year, how the bubbles would work, how the children would respond to the staff mask-wearing and constant hand washing and not seeing other children or staff. But we did all survive! And actually, most of the children thrived. At the end of every year, we write an end of year report about our work, we reflect on where the children were and how they are now. At the end of every year, I am always amazed and moved by the progress we see, but this year feels more significant. This year’s group missed out on massive amounts of preschool education before starting; many of them have missed time from schools in the first two terms due to bubbles going down with covid isolation and then further lockdowns in the winter. All of these are hugely significant. My colleagues and I measure our children’s progress on how settled they are, can they now play with others, can they begin to become regulated when they have a regulated adult with them, can we understand their speech and language, are they now talking to us and others, can they take part in class for some of the time with their peers, do they have an emotional understanding and vocabulary. The answer is yes, a massive YES. And that feels brilliant and quite remarkable.

As ever this year, I have seen teachers and teaching assistants and Sencos and headteachers doing a fantastic job. We don’t say thank you enough to the education staff; the last 18 months have been the most challenging time for everyone in education. My hope is education staff can finally stop and rest for some time over the summer, I know there is still much they will need to do for the new term, but my hope is they can stop for a time but also I hope they can feel appreciated and thanked for their amazing work.

In the last few weeks, I have had a new book published with Routledge, it is called supporting children with social, emotional and mental health needs in the early years. The book offers practical ideas and suggestions on how to support children with SEMH needs

Exhaustion in education settings

It is finally the end of term 2. I thought term 5 & 6 last academic year was the hardest I have seen, but no this term I think has been the most challenging. I am tired, but I know this is nothing compared to the utter exhaustion the teachers, ta’s and senior leaders in schools are feeling. It has been such a strange term and it has impacted me in ways I did not expect. As well as being a nurture consultant with young children, I am also a writer and a trainer, but this term I have not felt able to write. That might be partly because at the end of the last term I finished one of my biggest writing projects, a new book for Routledge, but I think it was also due to trying to manage the constant change, I did not have the capacity to think about writing or training.

This week I have been writing reports for the children I support, it has given me some headspace to think and reflect. As I write that, I know that is a total luxury, and if I am honest I am feeling a bit guilty about that. One of my reflections has been how this term has felt like I have been standing on shifting sands. Every time I planned something, things changed, the rules changed, the children were there, then they were not there, it reached the point where daily I dreaded seeing an email or having a phone call telling me about another change. I have realised during this strange year that I really don’t like change! I like routine, I like to know what my plans are and I like to have notice about any changes. That is very similar to the children I support, they don’t like change and they like to be prepared for changes. If nothing else I think this term has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of how the children I work with often feel.

As I said at the beginning of this piece of writing, I am tired, but I know this is nothing compared to what I am seeing in education staff. In previous blogs, I have written that I was concerned for education staff, but ending this year, I have never seen so much exhaustion and brokenness on such a large scale. I can’t express how worried I am for the staff who work in our education settings. They are doing the most incredible job. During terms 5 and 6, it is thanks to many education settings that families had food to eat, there were so many food deliveries to families organised by them as well as all the education they organised. In terms 1 and 2 this academic year, many staff have been worried about their health, and yet they have been working incredibly hard to provide an education for the children. Despite all of this the government and the tabloid press seem to think it is ok to criticise, to accuse teachers of slacking. I have often felt that the government and the press have no idea about what it is like to work in a school, and these last few months have proved that.

My hope is that the education staff can stop and rest over these next few weeks, but I know that won’t actually happen. Education settings are still responsible for the track and trace until Christmas eve, they will still be planning and preparing for next year and our colleagues in the senior schools will now be changing their plans for the beginning of the new term, as well as figuring out how to roll out testing on a massive scale.

Now is a time when those education staffs need to be held up, supported, encouraged, and helped.

The long term

In Bath, we are entering week 8 of this first term back. If I am honest I didn’t think we would get to this week, I genuinely thought the schools would have been locked down or there would have been a 2 week half term as a circuit breaker, I know I’m not the only person in education who was hoping for the 2 week half term!.

My role is in reception classes, and all the reception classes I am in feel pretty normal, and this is down to some very dedicated staff making it feel ok for children. I know senior leaders, teachers, and teaching assistants are working so hard to make this ok. The transition into school is always hard, and we are seeing children who are finding the transition trickier after having 6 months at home. But at this point in the school year, I am not so worried by the children, but I am concerned about how much the staff are carrying and how tired many of them are.

As an outside person going into schools, I can see the job in a school is harder. There is more planning, more cleaning, lots of logistical thinking around keeping the children in their bubbles, barely any time to take a lunch break as the staff are often monitoring the lunchtime for their class, virtual school meeting’s, virtual parents evening alongside the hope that they and the children in their class won’t get Covid. This is a lot of additional thinking and worry.

If I am honest I am quite concerned about term 2, the term which is always nuts!, planning for Christmas often starts straight into the new term. To survive the term 2 education staff need to be well organised. Alongside the additional things they try to fit in with all the teaching they need to do and targets they need to reach; they also have the children’s rising excitement and for others the distress because it is all changing and they don’t like change. This alongside minimal lunch breaks, extra cleaning, extra planning re Covid, trying to keep everyone safe, that is a huge burden.

What is the answer? I don’t have one, but I do know that anyone who is living with or is friends with a teacher or teaching assistant, be kind to them this half term, be extra kind. They may need lots of rest and relaxation, but I know many will be using the half term to prepare for term 2, but they also need a break from work and schools and thinking and planning.

How do we support children through transition during COVID 19

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This is a question I and the team I work with have been giving a lot of thought to. I also delivered some training for Wandsworth this week looking at how we can make this work during COVID times.

In ordinary times we would arrange visits to schools/ classes/ nurseries. In ordinary times children would be in school and nursery, however, as we know these are not ordinary times. Below are a few ideas we will be using and I have suggested to Wandsworth they could try.

Videos

During the lockdown, we have all become more competent at making videos. I have suggested to schools and nurseries that they could make a video of the new classroom, to show the children what it will look like, show them any of the key areas you think the children need to know e.g. outdoor space, dining hall, toilets, pegs, carpet time, creative area, toys. Another way to do this is to include the children you have currently in school/ nursery, ask them what they think the new children need to see.

Video of staff, one important part of the children’s transition is for them to meet staff, many settings do home visits and visits to the nursery or the school, allowing the staff and children to meet each other. This may not be possible this year. One suggestion is for the new staff to make a short video of themselves to send to the children, telling them their name, a few things they like to do, how they are looking forward to seeing the child, this will go a long way to help the child feel familiar and in touch. They can also then re-watch this film, helping with that familiarity.

Photos

For some of our children they may not have access to watching videos, as an alternative, you could make a small photo book of the important parts of the school, include photos of the teacher, Ta’s ( nursery staff if it’s a nursery transition), again you could involve the current children in this. Pull these together into a simple PDF document, if possible print them and send them to the children, encourage the parents to look at this over the weeks before they return.

Books and play

During normal times in the weeks running up to transition, settings will be reading stories to children about moving to school, having school uniforms for children to try on, they may be playing games about going to school. These things can still happen, encourage parents to buy the uniform, and let the children try it regularly. There may be an issue about cross-contamination with clothes in the nursery, to get around this have the uniform from the school hanging up or photos of children wearing the uniform, this is all about helping children to recognise, be familiar, with this change and what will be new. You can still read books to children, there are many books available which you could use. Suggest books to parents they could read to their children, if purchasing books is difficult for parents you could film a member of staff reading some of the books and email the video out to families.

Social story

Make a social story about going to school for the children to take home. The social story we use is a simple story about a girl called Lily who is going to school, through the story we ask questions to enable a conversation and discussion. An example of the questions in our story are below:

  • Lily is going to her new school, it is called Camerton primary, where are you going to school?
  •  Lily’s school jumper is blue, what colour will your school jumper be?.
  • Lily is going to school with her friend Megan, which friends are going to your new school?
  • Lily will be going to school on the bike with her Dad, how will you get to school?
  • Lily will be having school lunches at school, she likes eating jacket potato, what will you do at lunchtime?
  • Lily is looking forward to playing with the pirate boat in the classroom, what are you looking forward to at school?
  • Lily is a little bit worried about playtimes, the playground has a big climbing frame and she is a bit scared about that. Does anything worry you about school?

This is a simple tool to design and use, it enables staff or parents to have conversations with the child about the school they are going to and how they are feeling about it. We have a photo on each page of the story to make it more visually appealing. This is just an example that you could adapt.

These are just a few ideas, but hopefully will help you to think of other ways too that we can still support during this transition. 

At the end of July I have a new book being published withJessica Kingsley Publishers, the title is Supporting Young Children Through Change and Everyday Transitions: Practical Strategies for Practitioners and Parents. It has a chapter on the transition to school/nursery, a chapter on bereavement, and another on separation, along with other chapters covering other changes children experience. 

On the re-opening of early years and school.

 

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This week most schools and early years settings are re-opening. There are so many political arguments about this, which I am not going to enter into on this posting. However, I know staff have been working so hard over the last few weeks, to make this the best they can for the children to return. I know staff have been working incredibly hard at organising, preparing, planning, and changing plans as the government keeps changing the guidance. I know that many staff feel that they are having to compromise what they believe is the best practice in order to fit into the new guidance.

I am aware that in all the arguing and political debating we can easily forget that behind all this are many staff, some will be pleased to return, some will be unsure and others will be incredibly scared. Change is so hard, especially when change is happening and we don’t really know what the outcome will be, how long we will be working in this new way, and whether we will all be shut down again.

Working in the time of a crisis, at a time of change and uncertainty, and at a time when many feel fearful and anxious, this brings with it additional stresses on top of an already demanding job in normal times. These are not normal times.

I am writing this blog for my friends and colleagues who are returning this week, and for those of you I don’t know, I am writing to say I am thinking of you, I know this is going to feel hard and maybe scary and to say thank you. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being there for the children, thank you for making it the best you possibly can for the children, because I believe that is what you will do.

Please make sure you take extra time to care for yourself and if anyone is reading this who lives with or is friends with a teacher, TA or early years worker who is returning, be extra kind to them in these weeks, check in on them, buy them chocolate ( or something else they like!), they are going to need it.

May your week go well.

Below are some links which might be useful

Alistair Bryce Clegg  has an excellent blog post with thoughts on returning

I was asked by my local early year’s team to make some short videos for staff about the return to work, staff wellbeing, and children’s wellbeing. They are accessible to all. This is a link to them.

Letter to the reception class teachers I work with

This is a letter I sent today (email actually!) to the excellent early year’s teachers I work with. I am posting it on my blog as it is also for all those other reception class teachers who feel deeply depressed after reading Ofsted’s damning report and recommendations on the reception year.

Dear all, I am working with each of you in your schools. This week there has been a very depressing Ofsted report about reception classes and teaching and the emphasis on reception classes needing to prepare children better for YR 1- e.g. more formal.

I know you are all excellent early years teachers, I see your work each week, and I am really impressed at the dedication and commitment you all make to excellent early years practice.I know this is not really my role But I wanted to take the opportunity to say Thank you for the amazing jobs you are all doing, thank you for your dedication to the children you work with, thank you for allowing the children in your classes to play and discover and be curious and to learn though this. Thank you for committing yourselves to making a difference to these children.

We all know Ofsted are wrong in their suggestion, we all know that early years children learn best through play, through having their learning scaffolded and supported by trained, early years staff.

I know that reading the Ofsted report is deeply depressing and must make some of you wonder why you are still doing the job. That is why I am mailing you, to thank you and encourage you. As I am not sure, you get that enough.

There is another report, which does have hope and which is based on early years practice, research and evidence. If you want head teachers reading something useful this might be a useful link for them!

Have a restful weekend