Whilst parents who are currently juggling online learning with all sorts of other pressures may be worried about academic ‘gaps’ as a result of the school closures, the schools we spoke to in preparing this feature were less concerned about traditional academics than the issues that may arise due to limited socialisation in the months prior to starting at secondary school.
As Mary Donnelly, Deputy Head of Primary at Arcadia School told our team;
“For many families at this point, it is not feasible to undergo a full day of online learning for all sorts of reasons. We know it is highly likely that some students will have missed the delivery of some curriculum content. Whilst this is a worrying prospect, it is also something all schools are incredibly aware of. Our Senior Leaders are working hard to formulate a strategy for re-introducing students to school. This will aim to acknowledge any gaps in learning quickly and ensure students have the opportunity to fill them”.
So should parents ease off a little on the worry of falling behind and focus more on their child’s wellbeing? Most definitely ‘yes’, says Mike Bloy, Head of Secondary at Kings’ School Al Barsha.
“The ’stuff’ is important, of course, but we know we can fill the gaps! What might be challenging is what comes from the lack of socialisation and loss of opportunities during this period at home. The move from Year 6 to Year 7 is always an exciting transition time, but it’s a bigger unknown this year”.
The starting date for this bigger unknown is moving ever closer and may well start to loom large in the minds of parents and children as the summer grows near. Just as much of the final weeks in 'real' primary school would be spent preparing children to move to secondary, so should schools continue to place a significant emphasis on the transition.
At Safa British School, Principal Zara Harrington and her team are working with parents and children to help them to maintain and build the relationships that will form the platform for a solid start to secondary school.
“Whilst maintaining and creating new friendships is more difficult in this time of social distancing, it is vital that opportunities for children to interact are maintained until the resuming of a normal school environment. We suggest parents make supervised use of online and gaming platforms to allow their child to socialise and retain strong bonds with their friends.
These are uncertain times, but by providing children with the stability of their friendship groups, they will be better placed to make a seamless start to the next phase of their school career”.
At Kings’ School Al Barsha, Mr Bloy and his team are looking at many different ways to mark this significant milestone for children. “We are looking at online graduations, special assemblies and team sporting challenges throughout our schools. I’ll probably pop up somewhere in the end of term assembly for the Year 6 kids at Kings’ School Dubai and Kings’ School Nad al Sheba!
"More importantly, we are giving lots of thought to what that first term will look like. We’ll probably have some online introduction and preparation sessions before term starts, and if it’s feasible we might look at keeping existing friendship groups together, where we would typically mix them up more. We hope to give children increased opportunities to interact and make new friends, perhaps by front-loading the curriculum with practical activities. As a team, we are talking about ways in which we can support children’s emotional wellbeing. We may, for example, do more Personal, Health, Social and Economic (PHSE) sessions. where our students have space to express their anxieties or worries. I think changes like these will be impactful for students at KSAB”.
In the Parent's Corner
Other than support their child socially, what should parents do at home to help ease the transition from primary to secondary school? This is an area on which all the schools we spoke to agree: Help develop their independence!
The change of in classroom delivery style from primary to secondary is often significant and added to that there is the need to move around the school (remember back to how daunting that was!), develop relationships with new adults and peers, as well as remembering homework, resources, etc. All this at once for our 11 year olds!
If there is anything that parents can be doing right now, it’s fostering greater independence. Ms Donnelly at Arcadia has this advice for our readers “I’d advise parents to give their child greater autonomy over their online timetabling for the day. Avoid pre-preparing your child and let them take responsibility for ensuring their work has been completed. It will really help!”
For the staff at Safa British School and Kings’ Al Barsha, there have been positives to this period of online learning, and greater independence is one of them. Ms Harrington at SBS felt that “there had been opportunities for greater independence and resilience” and Mr Bloy felt that challenging students to be more independent learners had been an upside.
This unique group of secondary school students may well require more support to overcome that first hurdle of joining secondary school but, just as with any challenge in life, there will be positives that come from negatives.
For some years now, educators across the globe have been stressing the importance of social skills in the ever changing world of work. With UAE schools creating brand new systems that focus on, and better support, these skills, perhaps, in the long run, the September 2020 school starters will be at advantage? It will certainly be interesting to watch.