Head of Sir Frederick Gibberd College: “Children’s mental health comes first”

THE mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people is a new school’s priority in the early days of the Coronavirus shutdown.

Sir Frederick Gibberd College, in Harlow, opened in September with its first cohort of 120 Year 7 students.

Since the school closures due to the Coronavirus, between 12 and 17 students whose parents are key workers have been attending the school site each day.

They are working with headteacher Dee Conlon and one other member of staff on a rota system.

The rest of the year group are being set work and tasks at home.

But, Mrs Conlon’s priority for now is to ensure her children understand what is happening and are getting the emotional support they need.

Children are being encouraged to write an online diary each day which teachers can access to keep in touch with any concerns they may have.

She said: “The diaries enable our students to let us know what they are doing each day, but also to let us know how they are feeling. We are phoning our children daily or weekly or in response to what they have written in their diaries if they sound down, anxious or worried. Our safeguarding team are calling our most vulnerable students to check all is well and their families are managing.

“All students have been issued with learning packs before the closure as well as online learning tasks. We have also supplied resources on our school website to support parents at home. I am emailing our families a couple of times a week with fun activities they can do at home, online puzzles, reading lists, writing competitions and online lessons for English, maths, science and coding.

“Although our school building is shut, the school mobile – usually used for trips – is on and so parents and students have access to me 24/7. Some of our families or students simply need to hear from us. The most important thing is making sure they are feeling ok about everything and that they understand what is happening. Our students are only 11 and they are exposed to a lot of things online. We are making sure they are not worried or anxious and are appropriately well informed.”

Students attending school are starting each day by taking part in the online fitness class by Joe Wicks, before enjoying a hands-on craft activity, completing online learning for all subjects and taking part in afternoon PE lessons.

They have so far made rainbows with positive messages, read Goodnight Mr Tom and watched the film, made mathematical shapes and entered a bookmark competition.

Those at home are being given the same online learning tools and learning packs to ensure they are studying each day, as well as being encouraged to get physically active.

Mrs Conlon said: “At the moment, we are making sure our students do not forget what they have already learnt in school and trying to add to that.

“We are not expecting parents to be teachers; with the best will in the world, not every parent could provide that, especially if they have more than one child at home and definitely not long-term. If this situation lasts for several months, we have put the IT resources in place to ensure the online learning continues.

“The advantage we have is that our students are still quite young and we have only one year group. When we return to school, we will ensure students catch-up and cover what they should have in the national curriculum.

“These are difficult times, but the support from our families is incredible. I also cannot thank my staff enough for going above and beyond. Sir Frederick Gibberd is truly an extraordinary school.”

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