Headmaster's Blog: Reconnecting with life after lockdown
Sophie Clayton

"The unprecedented changes to all our lives over the past 15 months have caused many of us to reflect upon how we value the way we live our lives. The incredible changes we have endured under the cloud of the covid pandemic, the sheer resilience, particularly among our students, has been inspirational. Many groups have felt the impact of lockdown, but the removal of social interaction for young people and the consequent isolation from their friends and peers, has been particularly severe.

We were all incredibly proud of their efforts, and of our staff, as we adapted to the new virtual world. And while we are pleased at the consistent, high quality teaching we were able to provide online, we also know that it can never replace face-to-face lessons and social interaction.

I think the second lockdown in particular saw many retreat into themselves. The creative projects, hobbies and new interests inspired by the initial lockdown waned somewhat as many just hunkered down to get through it all. Many might admit that Netflix, gaming, social media, and screen time in general began to eat away at previous good habits of the pursuit of music, art, sport, and outdoor pursuits.  Young lives shrunk to the size of a screen coinciding with a significant rise in children’s mental health issues.

It may well be that we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg of the impact of lockdown. A survey from the charity Young Minds found in that in January and February over two thirds of young people felt that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect upon their mental health, although this is more optimistically counterbalanced by nearly 80% of the same respondents believing that their mental health would improve when most restrictions were lifted.  

Our experience as teachers made us aware how hungry everyone was to reconnect with life once more when schools were brought back in March.

Yet what a strange return it was. Whilst schools did all they could to accommodate the government guidelines on safety, bubbles and safe practices still prevented the full experience of being back at school. Don’t get me wrong all of us have been grateful for the safety of bubbles when the rare positive test has come back, but equally we all want to stay on the journey towards getting back to ‘normality’.

We are keener than ever to help our young people get out and be inspired and embrace all that life has to offer once more. Education is patently not just about achieving grades. And certainly not about the hideous treadmill that TAGs briefly created. It should be about challenge in the physical world and working collaboratively with others on finding solutions. It should allow young people to engage in developing a variety of physical, mental, and emotional skills, within a range of environments, to challenge their inhibitions and to actively explore new experiences in the real world. If you ask any parent what they wanted their children to experience at school it would be to be happy, and to learn the qualities of character that make them ready to face the world and, I would hope, make it a better place. Increasingly this means understanding what good mental health means and having the personal capacity to make good decisions when faced with life’s twists. This is why breadth in the curriculum is so important, and why time in the day to take full advantage of it must be a given. At Giggleswick it means the breadth of our curriculum and co-curriculum, our facilities and of course the idyllic Yorkshire Dales countryside, all put us in a strong position to do just this.

Our CAS (Creative, Active, Service) programme is a great illustrator of this. We have an incredible range of co-curricular activities offering exposure to the arts through music, drama and creative clubs. Our sport and outdoor enrichment programmes include team and individual sport, dance, fell running and our brilliant Outdoor Pursuits Giggleswick Certificate which features climbing, kayaking, caving, orienteering and expedition planning.

Our service activities include the Combined Cadet Force, which has been established at the school for over a century and offers insight and experience from the Army, RAF and Royal Marines. On top of this we also run Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Schemes and community-based activities such as primary school support and environmental projects.

School must be a positive social experience where education is recognised as much more than good grades."