One Year of Covid: Relationships, resilience, reward - headteacher tells of coronavirus challenge

Hornchurch School Headteacher talks up teens

Hornchurch High School Headteacher Val Masson believes the true resilience of teenagers has been shown by their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. - Credit: Hornchurch High School

“It is very difficult as a teacher to be down around kids – they give us energy and they make us want to be good enough for them.” 

The true nature of the teacher/pupil relationship has been laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic. It's always been known that "kids" - to quote Hornchurch High School headteacher Val Masson - rely on teachers to shape their education. 

But the absence of pupils from schools, enforced by coronavirus, has revealed just how much teachers draw from that relationship. Children are energisers, says Ms Masson, who spoke to the Recorder just as pupils were returning to the classroom - hopefully permanently. 

The strength of this relationship was one key aspect she wished to highlight. The other? “Never underestimate the resilience of kids."

This was Ms Masson's prevailing message as the Recorder marks One Year of Covid,. She was keen to emphasise that it has been a year of challenge, not complete loss: "It is not time to say kids have lost a year of education. It has been tough, but they haven’t lost out.” 

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She points out that, between allocated holiday time and advances made with remote learning, there's room for cautious optimism that the damage done won't be long-term.

That's certainly the school's aspiration, with Ms Masson explaining that this period - between now and Easter - is seen as "the beginning of the next unit”.

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She only foresees a brief period of disruption this week due to the school's Covid testing procedures. Pupils have already been tested twice, while a third round of tests are scheduled for Friday and Monday (March 12 and 15). Thereafter the policy reverts to home testing. 

She has directed staff to tailor their teaching for this week in anticipation of this, but from next week on she hopes it can be "full steam ahead".

Such is her level of trust in pupils' resilience that Ms Masson has put something of a ban on negative talk.

Rather than look at what's been lost, she wants pupils to focus on what can be gained now they're back at school.

"I don’t want to reinforce negative messages for children. I think people underestimate kids and teenagers."

She also makes a point about the important subject of mental health. Not only has adverse mental health been one of the biggest consequences of the pandemic, but the young person's experience has become more visible.

This openness should be applauded, she says, rather than being automatically viewed as a red flag: “Kids and young people discussing mental health shouldn’t always be assessed as them suffering. If anything, they may suffer less because they are talking more."

That's not to say that there hasn't been - or won't be - mental adversity to deal with, but it's Ms Masson's view that the open discussion which exists now can act as a safeguard: "The problem has always been there, it just wasn’t discussed as much before.” 

Beyond learning the true resilience of young people, the pandemic has been a true lesson in appreciation, and a warning against complacency.

"Nobody takes anything for granted anymore. I remember thinking 'they'll never close the schools', but they did."

The measures taken are unlike anything Ms Masson has seen in her 30 years in the industry, but she and her colleagues emerge with a "stronger sense of community than ever before". 

Teachers - of whom the school lead is "very proud" - have worked together with "brilliantly supportive" parents to make the best of a bad situation. 

Now that pupils are back in school, and "delighted" to be so, the focus turns to keeping them there. "That's the biggest thing; everything is doable in school, but once we have to send people home it is really tough.” 

Ms Masson hopes to never have another disjointed period like that experienced between October and Christmas, during which she confesses it was hard to "build momentum".

Yet with the roadmap out of lockdown staring back, the headteacher can attack the coming weeks with resolve: “The number one priority is to keep the school open - I'll do anything to make sure that happens."

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