The headteacher of Teesside’s most in-demand primary school says it will take years for teachers to help pupils overcome the effects of lockdown and the coronavirus crisis.
Katie Haycock, currently head of Wolviston Primary School – which Teesside Live recently named the hardest primary school to secure a place at locally – says nobody yet knows what long-term damage has been done to children.
“The majority of Wolviston pupils wanted to get back to school to be with their friends and start learning again, but we’ve had to re-establish and relearn their routines,” said Mrs Haycock.
“We carried out a wellbeing survey and the only reason some children didn’t want to come back was worrying about their parents at home, especially if they had health conditions.
“But the long-term effects on children are still not known. It’s not just this year, it’s the knock-on consequences. If you didn’t get your GCSE or A levels it can impact your whole career and the rest of your life.”
Mrs Haycock, who will take up a new role as director of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities at Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust after Christmas, says vulnerable children and those with special needs have been especially badly hit by missing school during lockdown.
“This has been a difficult time for all of us and especially young people, but the effects are heightened for those children who already have anxiety and get upset by a change of routine or see the world differently,” she said.
“They haven’t had access to the specialist support schools are so good at providing and the one-to-one learning they’re used to. Even the wearing of masks can be problematic with regards to communication.
“Schools will be assessing all children and looking at how they can put in catch-up interventions, but for children with special needs, we need to come up with bespoke, creative strategies.
“We also need to help schools support parents and carers because having a child with special needs can be rewarding but it can also be tough and at times very lonely.
“Parents have just spent six months helping children with their education at home while doing their own work and worrying about financial pressures and the prospect of another lockdown. They might also be concerned about sending their children to school because children with complex needs sometimes have underlying health conditions.”
Mrs Haycock, who will join NPCAT after five years as head of Wolviston, says she will be building on the good practice she has already seen in place within the trust’s 27 schools.
“I’ll miss the children, but I started out teaching in NPCAT schools and it feels like a family,” she said.
“My role will be to further enhance the provision of specialist help for children and support school leaders, SENDCOs and staff across the trust, as well as being there for parents.”
The trust is creating specialist teams for counselling, educational psychology and speech therapy to support this work.
“A trust should be about collaboration and we’ll be looking at how we can pool resources between schools,” said Mrs Haycock.
“My long-term goal will be to have specialist hubs to share best practice and expertise. I’ll also be looking at funding streams to support what we need to do.
“Being the SENDCO at Wolviston has given me a deeper understanding of the difficulties pupils and their parents face and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing children make progress.
“It’s hard work and you have to celebrate small gains, but we also need to have high aspirations. With quality first teaching and targeted interventions, it’s possible to make a real difference.
“If we act early enough we can narrow the gap to enable all children to achieve their full potential, so we need to break down as many barriers as possible.”