Maintaining emotional well-being during lockdown

Posted on 28th May 2020 in School News

Mr David Corran, Deputy Head and Designated Safeguarding Lead at King Edward’s Witley, discusses the difficulties that pupils face during lockdown and shares advice on how the school can best support them.

Much has been reported on the arrangements that are being made to ensure children continue to receive their academic education whilst schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. But schools also have an important role to play in managing the emotional wellbeing of their pupils.

Many factors may contribute to some young people’s struggle to deal with the current situation. These include reduced interaction with school friends and peers; dramatic change to the normal daily routine which can be daunting for all but particularly for those for whom routine is central to their continued emotional stability; fear of family and loved ones becoming infected by the virus and, of course, the uncertainty of how long the lockdown and associated social distancing restrictions are going to last.

Pastoral care teams within schools will be working hard to help navigate their pupils through this crisis, especially schools which not only provide an academic education but also a temporary home for its pupils, ie those offering boarding facilities.

At King Edward’s Witley, exceptional pastoral care is deeply rooted in the school’s ethos, dating back to 1553 when Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, persuaded King Edward VI to hand over Bridewell Palace to house, care and educate the under-privileged and destitute, creating The Bridewell Royal Hospital. Fast-forward to 2020 and the School has been transformed from a Tudor orphanage to a world-class co-educational independent day and boarding school that continues to care for a wide variety of pupils, including those who face challenging personal circumstances that suggest a boarding school education is a particular need.

Maintaining a routine

For some children, the change in routine can feel threatening, so steps should be taken to ensure a routine - albeit a different one – is put in place. Wherever possible this should follow that of the traditional school day. At King Edward’s Witley, the virtual school day still begins with either a house meeting or a tutor group meeting; lessons take place at the normal times and pupils can still access a well thought-out and varied co-curricular programme. Tutors have an academic supporting role but they are also an important part of the pastoral team, keeping in regular communication with Housemasters/ Housemistresses about the well-being of all their tutees. They are an essential first point of contact during tutor group days, when Housemasters/ Housemistresses will not see the pupils in house meetings, so are able to assist with a wide range of matters.

The tutor groups have been reconfigured during this period to better meet the needs of different year groups. A primary focus for the tutors is to ensure that positive, motivational contact is being made throughout the remote learning period to ensure that the School continues to meet the all-round needs of each individual.

Axing of exams

For certain year groups, 2020 represented a milestone year when pupils would have the opportunity to sit public exams that will play a pivotal role in shaping their future. As a result, the last two years have been geared towards fulfilling personal academic potential, studying hard with a specific goal in sight. The announcement that all exams were to be cancelled is likely to have triggered a maelstrom of emotions as pupils come to terms with the news, and what it represents to them.

Mr David Corran, Deputy Head and Designated Safeguarding Lead at King Edward’s Witley comments, “There is understandable disquiet, discontent and, then a certain sense of anti-climax as pupils realise they will not be able to test themselves by the same yardstick as previous generations of children. Not surprisingly, some children have wanted to disengage when they realise their ‘course is run’. In recognition of this, and to maintain the momentum and stimulate motivation, we have developed a bespoke ‘Skills for Sixth Form’ programme for our GCSE students, offering bridging courses to prepare them for future A-level and IB studies. This programme encompasses a research project, guidance and information on accessing the world of work - including CV development, applications for internships or work experience and interview techniques.

“For our Upper Sixth leavers we have created a ‘Skills for Future Success’ course to help them prepare for the worlds of work and university. The course comprises academic, careers and life-skills guidance, and even incorporates advice on budgeting, conflict-resolution, cooking and household maintenance! In addition, some Upper Sixth pupils are capitalising on the opportunity to draw on the support of an academic supervisor to complete a research project in an area related to their first-year undergraduate studies. Our belief is that action is sometimes the best reliever of stress so, by offering an appealing and valuable distraction that requires their input, we hope to shift the focus away from what is not happening, towards new initiatives that demand their engagement in the here-and-now.

“We have also ensured all pupils are aware they can talk to the School Counsellor, pastoral staff, and members of the Well-being Team to help them work through their anxieties.”

Reducing feelings of isolation

Whilst there may be some pupils who naturally thrive in a classroom setting – whether it is a physical or virtual place of learning - others who may already struggle with interacting within a group may find adjustment to the new distance learning world extremely hard. For these pupils, there is a risk of further isolation from their peers and a deeper feeling of loneliness.

Mr Corran continues, “We have issued clear guidelines to both staff and pupils to make the virtual classroom a place of calm and order – using the technology as best we can to maximise security and to encourage engagement from all”.

As always, software and technical solutions only provide half an answer; online security also demands appropriate watchfulness and common sense from all users. The principles of consideration and inclusion apply now, just as they did before: ie teachers acknowledging the virtual ‘raised hand’ to recognise contributions from all pupils, not just the most vocal; exploiting the ‘chat’ function to enable otherwise timid children to contribute their thoughts to their teacher.

Encouraging good habits

There is, of course, a danger during this period of remote learning that children will disguise inappropriate online activities as ‘doing their schoolwork’. Boredom may make some children over-reliant on the internet and they may spend too long gazing at a computer screen, become involved with excessive gaming or even joining unsuitable forums.

Mr Corran adds, “The vast majority of the younger generation make far more use of social media than we do. It is important to moderate this; the pressure of an ever-present digital connection is a source of stress which can interfere with sleep quality and quantity. It is important for children’s well-being to spend as much time in the here-and-now as possible. This is our advice, but we must acknowledge that much of this guidance is for the parents to deliver.

“Teenagers are notorious for not acknowledging the need for good quality sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation (, teens need 8-10 hours’ sleep each night to function best, yet a study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8.5 hours on school nights. Just as parents need to ensure that their child is getting sufficient sleep on a regular school day, the same applies to the new virtual school day. Excessive screen time is detrimental to health and well-being, which is why King Edward’s distance learning programme includes both independent study and live, online lessons.”

Protecting vulnerable pupils

When news of the coronavirus crisis first began to filter through, The Safeguarding, Wellbeing teams, and Housemasters/ Housemistresses at King Edward’s Witley undertook a scoping exercise to identify the most vulnerable pupils in the school community. Pastoral staff are in regular contact with these pupils, both by phone and, occasionally, through house visits.

The School continues to work closely with a number of children’s trusts such as Reedham, Buttle UK and Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation, to ensure that the children sponsored by these organisations are looked after. This can even include the provision of food boxes for households placed in financial jeopardy as a result of the lockdown.

Mr Corran says, “We recognise that for some children, it will be difficult to identify when they are at risk outside the security of the School. For example, some reports state there has been a 33% increase in domestic abuse, but it is unlikely that we would actually witness this situation. The only way that we can help these pupils is to rely on the bonds of trust that have been built up over months and years of relationship-building by pastoral staff so that, when the time comes, children will feel able to confide in them.

“We are working hard with other agencies including Surrey’s Single Point of Access (C-SPA), Early Help Hub and through our recently created triage system which allows us to react quickly and with knowledge of context as soon as a worrying event comes to our notice. The broad, full curriculum on offer via our distance learning programme (covering academic and co-curricular) is a good means of adding variety to the virtual straitjacket of life under lockdown”.

Benefits of lockdown

According to Mr Richard Davies, Head of Sixth Form at King Edward’s Witley, there are some tangible benefits, especially to Sixth Form pupils who have had to adapt to the current situation.

“Apart from the new-found resilience that many pupils will have acquired, the most significant learning will have taken place in self-management and organisation. Moving from an environment in which pupils sit down in a lesson and listen to the teacher for instruction, to one in which they have to navigate online learning platforms, such as Zoom, Google Docs and WhatsApp project groups, across multiple time zones, whilst competing for time on the laptop/ bandwidth at home, requires careful planning and effective prioritisation in order to adhere to deadlines.

“For many of our Generation Z pupils who are Digital Natives, paradoxically, the transition to complete lockdown and a 100% digital learning environment may also have helped them realise the importance of that most fundamental human characteristic of community; not only in terms of face-to-face contact and laughter in a classroom but also, more broadly, from an altruistic perspective that resonates with the school’s original mission – recognising who else is in my physical community and questioning what might I be able to do support those less fortunate?”

The future

At this point, no-one can predict the future learning landscape, but Mr Corran believes there will be a lasting impact following recent events, “The impact of this time will persist well beyond any return to (new) normality. We intend to expand our counselling provision, and, through a thorough audit of the School’s well-being provision, we will be prepared to meet what will no doubt be an unprecedented set of demands on pastoral staff when School returns.”

King Edward’s Witley’s top tips for parents

The following are four top tips for parents to help them protect their child’s well-being while the UK continues to operate restrictive practices to fight the spread of Covid-19.

  • Children will take their cue from adults: our reaction to these extraordinary events will determine theirs. Be cheerful: “The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness” (Montaigne)
  • Keep to routines
  • Maintain variety: ensure that weekends are different from weekdays
  • Communicate the importance of adhering to the following values during these difficult times: kindness, empathy, imagination, courage and resilience