I’m not sure whether it was a relief or a disappointment to realise we weren’t on our own in our concerns about our year 3 pupils. The ‘year 3 dip’ isn’t uncommon, but we have found this year particularly tough. Our cohort not only have low levels of attainment, but a significant number of children have low emotional intelligence too.
With this in mind, new RS Assessment research funded by the Nuffield Foundation into the wellbeing of key stage 2 children across 145 schools makes for pertinent reading. The results show that this year group saw the largest reductions in satisfactory responses across every dimension of academic wellbeing – positivity, motivation, resilience and persistence, and self-efficacy.
Sadly, while they showed the highest levels of positivity before the pandemic, 8 per cent more children in year 3 reported either some vulnerability or not feeling positive about school in the last academic year. In addition, the proportion of children in year 3 saying they felt motivated at school dropped by 13 per cent, the number of them who expressed feelings of self-efficacy (capability at school) dropped by 20 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, and there was a 15 per cent decrease in those who said they felt resilient.
Due to the national lockdowns in response to the Covid pandemic, these children did not get the chance to finish reception. Their year 1 teaching was also interrupted in November 2020 and early 2021. This meant that their introduction to formal education was disrupted. They missed important lessons about self-regulation and, partly due to increased isolation from their teachers and peers, how to manage the academic and emotional challenges of school.
Absolutely nothing is better than children being in school every day with a varied and rich environment and additional support, emotional and/or academic, for those who need it. Instead, these children spent increased time at home with their parents, who were having to juggle the needs of a 5- or 6-year-old with their jobs and possibly other sibling or family needs.
The result is a year group who are struggling to adapt their behaviour for a classroom setting and have to work much harder to access their learning.
Tennyson Learning Community is based in an area that experiences a high level of deprivation. That means our children are among the most impacted by the pandemic. But like all primary schools, our aim is for children to leave year 6 ready to face the challenges of secondary school and beyond.
We have a co-ordinated approach to supporting our pupils’ mental health and wellbeing; a key element of which is creating regular opportunities to monitor the children’s wellbeing and attitudes to learning. The results enable us to identify issues and implement strategies quickly.
One of the approaches we have used is to be more ‘behaviour intelligent’ and to understand the need to support children emotionally as an intervention. We recently achieved DfE-backed behaviour hub status and have been recognised as having excellent practice in place.
The majority of this is from our own developed pastoral approach. Children are supported with their mental health and wellbeing as a priority. We have a ‘ready to learn’ space in school, where children can go to reset. Our pupils practice awareness and know they can tell an adult when they need to take some time out. Each class has a self-regulation space and activity station for pupils so that they learn to self-regulate. We also use learning zones for behaviour, regularly asking children to identify how they are feeling and what learning zone they are in.
More than that, we timetable opportunities for children to learn about how to deal with things such as anxiety, belonging and low self-esteem. This is done through dedicated lesson time and is driven by the outcomes of pupil surveys.
We do all this because we know we can’t assume time will heal the gaps in children’s development. We now know year 3 have been particularly impacted, and we must be explicit in making that right.