Don’t fret about your child playing catch-up when they go back to school

The focus should be on ‘resettling’ children and rebuilding relationships in return to school, rather than playing ‘catch up’ on the education curriculum, a webinar recently heard, writes Marian Quinn, Chair of the Prevention and Early Intervention Network
Don’t fret about your child playing catch-up when they go back to school
Social distancing measures at a primary school in the UK. 

A WEBINAR organised by the Prevention and Early Intervention Network discussed questions which are on many parents’ minds — what to expect when schools reopen? Will children have fallen behind and need to catch up? Will they be disadvantaged in their learning? Will they reconnect with their friends? What can we do as parents to help them?

The webinar, involving almost 150 of the country’s leading education experts, family support organisations and teachers, heard that the priority focus should be on ‘re-settling’ children back to both early years services and primary schools, rather than playing ‘catch-up’ on the education curriculum.

Professor Noirin Hayes of the Trinity College Dublin School of Education urged parents not to fret about children needing to ‘catch up’.

She said that “children’s learning will not have stopped during Covid-19, but many would need some help to transition back to school life. Early years educators and teachers are skilled in making children feel safe and connected and should be given time to focus on those skills in particular.

“The emphasis should be on an enjoyable re-start with opportunities given and time taken to re-establish familiarity with school, friends and teachers.”

Her message to parents was to also give their energy and focus to ‘re-settling’, rather than the curriculum — and to be understanding of teachers need to invest time in this.

She said this message “is particularly important for children who may have had difficult experiences during the lockdown and are receiving additional schooling supports over the summer. The emphasis should be on nurturing their relationship with learning, rather than catching up on homework.”

Sharing on the ground experiences from England where Primary Schools have been re-opened for a number of weeks was the Headteacher at a Primary School in Dorset, Veronica Woodward. She told the webinar that most children re-adapted well, but that parents also needed reassurance.

Marian Quinn, Chair of the Prevention and Early Intervention Network. Photography: Conor Healy Photography
Marian Quinn, Chair of the Prevention and Early Intervention Network. Photography: Conor Healy Photography

“We gradually welcomed back children, with staggered starts, and social distancing being applied. Some parents were very anxious about the return, and initially some did not agree to their children returning. However, the children were fantastic and settled in, even though the classrooms looked different. We worked closely with parents too.”

National Parents Council (NPC) Early Years Services Manager, Clare Downey said parents have been in contact with the Council concerned that their children may have missed out on important learning and development opportunities.

“Parents are concerned about how the shutdown period will have impacted their children when they return to pre-school and school. To support parents we are answering calls and emails on our helpline, and we have produced a video with information for parents to help with their child’s transition for Primary School.”

The Prevention and Early Intervention Network (PEIN) brings together evidence-based practice, advocacy and research organisations seeking to improve outcomes for children, young people and families and to promote quality in prevention and early intervention.

Our webinar on children returning to school looked to experts for their tips and advises to help guide parents. Being informed by good evidence and expertise in policy decisions also applies to wider lessons we should take from the COVID-19 period. The eagerness with which we have been led by evidence to inform public health and social care decisions must be maintained and built upon.

All of the Irish evidence and global experience show the merit of increasing prevention and early intervention (PEI) initiatives to reduce inequalities and improve outcomes for the children and families who need them most. Prevention is defined as ‘providing a protective layer of support to stop problems from arising in the first place or from getting worse’; early intervention is defined as ‘providing support at the earliest possible stages when problems occur’.

The National Economic and Social Forum in Ireland has identified a return on investment of up to €7 for every €1 invested. UK studies have shown a return of an average of £4 per £1 spent. In the US studies have shown a return of up to $18 per $1.

There have been hard lessons and rapid responses during the pandemic, but part of its legacy can be positive if it reorientates and strengthens our focus on evidence based prevention and early intervention approach for children and families.

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