In March, the annual HAPPEN Conference, supported by Children in Wales, was attended by over 120 delegates, including teachers, head-teachers and children’s organisations.
HAPPEN Primary School Network is a key project for the Centre for Population Health & Well-being Research to bridge the gap between research and practice.
In its fourth year, the event was an opportunity to discuss HAPPEN’s latest research around pupil’s health, and wellbeing during school closures and the recommendations teachers have made to return to school.
During the Conference, the HAPPEN team took the opportunity to talk with attendees about priorities for pupils and staff and the future direction for primary schools.
Discussions during the Conference highlighted how school closures had widened health and educational inequalities.
Attendees felt that more emotional support was needed to help pupils re-adjust to school life. For example, to help children socialise and collaborate.
“Such hugely different experiences for children during lockdown – tough for teachers to support all children.”
Smaller class sizes could help but are not always feasible.
Pupil health & wellbeing
Protecting and supporting health and wellbeing was a common theme at the Conference for both staff and pupils.
“We need to consider staff wellbeing and how we can support teachers as well as pupils.”
Increased engagement with parents
Many examples of how well teachers have adapted included parental engagement like digital learning exhibitions, phone calls home.
“We completed wellbeing phone calls home each week during the lockdown, and these proved to be a support as much for the parents as the pupils. We have continued these since being back in school, focusing on children’s wellbeing and how well they have reintegrated back into school.”
Teachers attending the Conference expressed more guidance and research on parental engagement would be helpful.
A focus on play and social interaction
The socialisation of pupils was a key priority with opportunities to play and be with friends and give pupils who need extra support the chance to have it.
“There needs to be more focus on the need for play and social interaction post-lockdown above the need for getting back to normal teaching.”
The positives of blended learning discussed included opportunities to focus on other curriculum areas such as the expressive arts. Building on other positives of school closures, staff wanted to bring in more outdoor learning.
What is needed to take priorities forward?
Discussions highlighted the need for dialogue between schools and the Welsh Government, and decision-makers. Delegates felt that this would help staff provide input into decision-making and be well prepared when decisions affect schools.
“Welsh Government to set the scene even further …this is the time to work on outdoor learning, creative learning and wellbeing for the whole school community learning and ‘catch up’ will naturally follow.”
Delegates wanted to build on the positives of school closures, such as parental engagement into the future and protect wellbeing with more opportunities to play.
Dr Michaela James, Child Health and Physical Activity Researcher at HAPPEN, commented:
“The 2021 HAPPEN Conference gave us an opportunity to share our latest research regarding the impact of the pandemic on pupils and staff. We believe that this year, more than ever, it is important that we share our findings with those directly involved in education and allow them to have their say at an unprecedented time. We believe our latest research can have a real impact on staff and pupil health and wellbeing.”