There will be a variation in the willingness of parents to send children back to school in September. For some, the idea of their children returning is likely to be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking; they will want to avoid it. And it is inevitable that the fears of some parents about the coronavirus will end up being projected onto their children.
There will also be parents who will find it challenging to motivate their children to return to school.
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This will need to be managed carefully by all involved: anxiety must not be underestimated and the threat of fines and sanctions may not be the motivation needed.
Here is how we are going to approach it.
How will we know who needs help?
It will be crucial for schools to be cautious in detecting patterns in parents’ reporting of absences.
Signs like repeated accounts of illness, or symptoms that sound vague should be seen as signals that the family likely needs support in the return to school process.
What should this support look like?
1. Schools must be open with parents
School leaders need to be transparent regarding their plans; the procedures in place and expectations on pupils and parents should be communicated with absolute clarity.
Parents need to be able to access comprehensive, but simple, breakdowns of how the school will function and how it will be different. Some families may need extra support with this; providing written information may not be sufficient to support their understanding.
2. Understand the need for routine
There are many children, including those with SEND, for whom routine is extremely important. Parents need to be given the information necessary to prepare their children in advance of returning to school.
Some parents will want to create visual timetables or instructions for their children in order to support them in picturing how their days are going to look. The idea of pupils returning to the unknown will only serve to create more stress for all. If pupils’ worries and anxieties are triggered, this will be reflected in their behaviour at home, causing resistance.
3. Work with parents on plans
There may be the need for specific plans or individual risk assessments for some pupils and these should be co-produced: parents and pupils must feel involved in decisions being made.
Some parents will be concerned about uniform or equipment; what should be brought to school? How will the school be kept safe? Schools should seek to communicate guidance around these issues unambiguously and in plenty of time for parents to feel prepared.
4. Make practical suggestions for parents
It may be useful for schools to provide guidance to parents around what they should do on their child’s return from school – being clear about how parents can minimise risks to the household could help them to feel more comfortable. School leaders need to aim to keep guidelines and advice consistent– less variation will mean less confusion and parents should start to trust systems that have been put in place.
5. Never stop communicating
Ensuring that the lines of communication are kept open is also key. Parents who are worried should feel listened to and their anxieties respected. Schools must be open about how any infection concerns are being dealt with.
Parents should feel able to ask questions and communicate their concerns; it is only by working together that the return to school can be successful.
Vic Allen was a secondary Sendco and is now a special educational needs and disabilities information advice and support service manager in Bristol