After weeks of national media speculation, school is back and the early feedback shows that only a minority of parents kept their children away because of safety fears over the virus. On September 4th, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) published snapshot data from members in England and Wales showing that 92 per cent of schools reported attendance of 81 per cent or higher; 82 per cent reported attendance of 91 to 100 per cent.
However we are yet to experience how learning will resume after the lock-down months, and to whose expense. We believe that it needs to be less about interventions and more about creating sustainable and incremental strategies and support to help students be more resilient and independent because they will be spending more time learning online in most of the scenarios discussed. We need to think of broader principles of recovery.
Now that everyone is back to school, teachers are also looking at how to support children with their mental health following the lockdown; for example how children are coping and the state of their friendships after a period of isolation. For some, these relationships will have changed. These changes, on top of a potential fall behind on their learning journey, could make school more stressful that what it used to be. The sad reality is that, inevitably, numeracy and literacy will be prioritised. Indeed, Scottish government guidance specifically states that these areas, along with health and wellbeing, will be the initial priority. But what about the arts? Most disadvantaged children and young people are least likely to get access to the arts in the curriculum and extremely unlikely to get them as part of their home education. That is where the need is, but they are the ones that are under the most pressure to narrow the curriculum down to basic literacy and numeracy and therefore the arts get cut. We argue that the arts are necessary at all times and, now that pupils are back to their classrooms, the need to nurture the arts as an essential element of the curriculum will burn truer than ever. The role of empathy in our response to the current social crisis is essential. The recent reignition of the Black Lives Matter debate further underscores the importance of helping our children and young people develop empathy, respect and tolerance. It is common ground that children will have had very different experiences of these past months, and artistic activities will help them to explore their emotions and cope with these changes, helping them to build resilience. So let’s not leave music, drama, drawing, fall behind. Marlen Vasilopoulou, Director of Music