By Margaret Mulholland, ASCL SEND and Inclusion Specialist
Before the Coronavirus (BC), we were all acutely aware of the rise in school exclusions. Recent school and college closures and lockdown restrictions have highlighted the problems that those already at-risk of being excluded may face as schools and colleges gradually reopen. The sense of 'being behind' may well escalate for many of these children as ‘catch-up’ narratives are adopted by the media and start to permeate education culture. The difficult experiences some children and young people were facing at home may also have escalated during lockdown.
So, those already at risk are of great concern but so too are those whose behaviours or anxieties had previously gone unnoticed as they coped with the stresses of school, home, transition, or ‘additional learning needs’.
As school and college leaders, we are increasingly concerned that young people will be returning to school and college having experienced very difficult times. These children may be anxious, traumatised and their behaviours may be adversely affected. I would suggest that intersectionality is a concept we will be hearing a lot more about over the coming year. This describes the experience of those who face multiple disadvantage, for example poverty and a special educational need, or a boy from a BAME background who is also a primary carer. How will we ensure their needs are fully understood? Transitions of any kind bring with them untold difficulties for young people and more so for young people whose lives are complex and who experience challenges not always visible to their school or college community. We need to recognise and support them.
Recognising young people with hidden vulnerabilities is difficult. In their recent report School Exclusion Risks after COVID-19
, the Excluded Lives Research Team at the University of Oxford Education Department, share their findings in relation to three key questions:
- What are the heightened risks for exclusion as schools restart? Which students are at risk?
- How can we mitigate these risks? Who needs to act, when and how?
- What is happening to currently excluded students including where there is no alternative provision?
The research findings recognise the young people who will struggle with the return to school or college post Covid-19 are a diverse group. They ask schools and colleges to think beyond the conventional and recognised categories of vulnerability and to adopt a holistic approach. Involvement of everyone in prevention rather than treatment is what we should plan for “to stop fishing victims out of the pond. We need to go upstream to stop the perpetrators”.
The way forward
In summary, the report captures the concerns of the school and college community’s vulnerable pupils. The report also captures the opportunities we can seize to secure long-term and sustainable improvement. These school voices recognise the need for flexibility and innovation, such as online CPD, which is something ASCL has embraced and hopes to tailor to a process of recovery and rejuvenation
You may also be interested to read our recent paper Reaching out to children and young people with hidden vulnerabilities as schools and colleges open to a wider number
which explores strategies to support those newly vulnerable or those with hidden vulnerabilities.