Ever since he started school, 5-year-old Sammy has been drawn to Mr Jim, the school caretaker. Sammy often saw Mr Jim come in and out of the classroom to fix things, and one time Mr Jim set up a camera that ‘caught’ a dragon!

During the first lockdown, Sammy really missed seeing Mr Jim. He baked some gingerbread men that looked like Mr Jim and sent a photograph of the creation into school. When Sammy was able to go back to school, Mr Jim brought him a Lego card when he’d had a good day.

During the current lockdown, Sammy has been attending school, but Mr Jim is not allowed into his bubble. Recognising that Mr Jim had become an important secondary attachment figure for Sammy, his teacher arranged for a school walkie talkie to be kept in the classroom cupboard so that at the end of every day, Sammy could have a quick chat with Mr Jim and tell him about his day.

The vital importance of stable, nurturing relationships for children who have experienced trauma, neglect, and loss can’t be overestimated. Yet these relationships have been increasingly challenging to maintain over many months of restrictions, lockdowns and partial school closures.

Sammy’s experience is just one example of how being open to all the important relationships in a child’s life can make a huge difference to how children, schools and families will weather the storm of Covid-19.

Sarah, a SENDCO in a large secondary school, has also recognised the importance of maintaining key relationships. She has ensured that support staff are in bubbles with the children they regularly support so there is consistency. Now some children learning at home, the same support staff are joining with live lessons, leading breakout rooms, providing special interventions, phoning students and families and providing an online social group for students who are not in school.

Children who are at learning home are missing out on relationships with their friends as well as adults in school. Where schools are using live sessions, many families have appreciated extra Zoom chats with form tutors, and other key members of staff, and online social activities such as quizzes, baking challenges and story times to help friends keep in touch.

If schools are providing pre-recorded or offline material only, the opportunities for social interaction are few and far between. Andrea hit on a bright idea to help her 9-year-old. She sets up video calls with a friend and classmate and the two watch the class videos and complete their work together while on the call. “I thought there would be lots of messing about and not a lot of work done,” said Andrea, “but actually it works so well and gives her a sense of being nearer to normality.”

At 15, Kara has been spending hours in her bedroom completing online classes, worksheets and tasks. Worried about how isolating this could be, her mum has made family lunch time a regular feature of the day, encourages Kara out of the house daily for a little exercise, and frequently pops up to her room with drinks, snacks, and encouragement so that Kara knows she may be temporarily out of sight, but is never out of mind.

Maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of our children has never been more important. Working together, schools and families can do so much to protect the vital relationships that help children feel safe and secure so that they can learn. A little time invested in supporting children and young people to feel connected and included now will pay dividends when restrictions lift and schools fully open.

Author: Rebecca Brooks, AUK Education Policy Advisor