A balancing act and a steep learning curve: Downshall Primary School head talks Covid-19

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on July 5th 2020, 4:04pm

The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown has seen schools cease their standard term-time activities nationwide, yet behind the scenes, headteachers and senior members of staff have had plenty on their plates to keep themselves occupied, even before the government’s plans to reopen schools in phases was triggered in June.

Downshall Primary School in Ilford, Essex, is one institution which has remained open throughout the crisis for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, while delivering home learning for its 660 regular pupils.

Speaking to local news outlet the Ilford Recorder, head teacher Ian Bennett said: “It [the pandemic] has been a very challenging time and a steep learning curve. Our teachers are balancing the same things everyone is balancing but I really do feel there’s quite a bit of commitment from teachers at the moment.”

As well as continuing provision for its contingent of vulnerable pupils and those with key worker parents, the school has remained a social and community hub for families who have been hit hard by the crisis.

Elaborating on this, Bennett said: “Some [families] have called us in tears, saying they can’t feed their children, so we’ve been putting emergency parcels out to them.”

The effects of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown have understandably taken their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of parents and pupils. When compiling the worksheets that the school sends to homes for pupils to complete daily, there has been an emphasis from school staff on addressing the anxieties of the children and providing an outlet for them to express their emotions positively.

Bennett is also conscious of the fact that mental wellbeing is likely to be in a delicate place when schools return in earnest by September, and so showing patience and empathy with pupils will be vital. To help in the short term, the school staff have been working to put up-to-date news into context in an effort to ease the anxieties of families.

Bennett explained: “We as adults can watch the news and filter it out and put it into context.

“When children see their families anxious, or are constantly exposed to worst-case scenario news reports, we have to try to mitigate that so we don’t end up with children in a few months’ time that are really in a concerning place.”

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bennett appeared on the Leaders Council podcast series in February 2020 and discussed how educators must equip students with skills that will be unlike anything needed in any other century, which has rung true in light of one of the greatest challenges of our time. The full interview with Bennett may be heard here.

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