Preparations are well underway for welcoming back almost all of our children next week and I personally believe it is not a moment too soon.
At The Mulberry House School, we have been open throughout the Covid-19 crisis to provide not just an education for our key worker children and some key worker children from other schools who did not stay open – but also to provide resources for our pupils at home.
We have been working hard to ensure that children at home receive as much help as possible from their teachers and school to minimise disruption to their education. We have been providing as many educational resources and as much support to the parents of our pupil body as we can. We have also shared some of our resources more widely by setting up a public YouTube channel available to anyone in our community and beyond who could benefit.
As a school for very young children aged 2-7, I am very aware that we are one of those cited when those opposed to the return to school, say it is not practical to do so because children are too young to understand what is going on and will not respect the rules.
While there are very understandable concerns about social distancing, hygiene and pupil and teacher safety, I think it has been far too easy to avoid focusing on the flip side of the coin – that every day these children are not at school, they are missing out on a vital part of their early years development – social interaction with other children – and the structure of the school day.
It has long been recognised by educationalists that the education laid down in the early years provides the platform for the rest of a child’s education. If we get it wrong in the early years and a child is disengaged by education, they may never engage again. This is why it is so important for them to be at school. I believe that any longer away from school could be very damaging for their development.
Reception children and below are just getting used to school for the first time. Yes, they are often learning through play but this is not to disparage what they are learning and the environment they are learning it in. They are learning together to share, communicate with each other, forge vital early relationships and embark on the first steps of life away from home. They are widening the circle beyond their families and family friends. If some of these children are away from school for too long, they will forget faces and they will forget these first steps of early interaction.
I am also concerned that we need to get these very impressionable young children back into a routine as soon as possible which does not involve frightening them about a pandemic and allowing them to become institutionalised. The social distancing message is important but so are there relationships with others. Disrupt these too much and we are in danger of damaging those early links which are so important in a child’s life. It is indeed a fine balance.
Of course, it is not just our opinion that matters – so we surveyed the majority of our parents who overwhelmingly agreed that they would like to send their children back. Our staff, upon whom we rely more than ever, are also keen to return to the classroom. We thank both staff and parents for their support during these extraordinary times.
Our school – like many others for younger children – will be re-opening our doors with new hygiene measures in place but we do not want to reinforce this message to the exclusion of all others. School should be safe, yes, but it should also be exciting, fun and full of challenges and opportunities. Let us not forget that!
Sadly, one year group will be missing when we re-open on June 1 – our ‘Class of 2020’ – our leaving Year 2 children who will be going on to other prep schools in September.
Current Government regulations mean we cannot bring them back as they have only accorded Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 the status of ‘key transition years’. Of course, in the Independent sector, there are different year groups who are also ‘key transition years’. For us, this is Year 2 as our children are moving on to other prep schools at this stage.
I wish that we could bring back our Year 2’s as I believe it is important for them to celebrate the end of their years with us at The Mulberry House School before they move on to the next stage of their education – and prepare for that move. We will miss them and we will be thinking of them and one way or another, we will find a way to celebrate the end of their time with us at the school.
Meanwhile, I look forward to welcoming our community back to our corner of north west London and moving forwards on our education journey.