How to respond when education as you knew it is no more

Wow, what a week! The world has changed beyond recognition in the last few days, and no more so than in education. There’s been a lot of anxiety and confusion around social distancing and how this relates to the seemingly contradictory decision to keep UK schools and colleges open. Students and teachers have been in limbo and it’s been hard to focus on anything except watching for the latest news updates.

The news we’ve all been waiting for

Gavin Williamson’s announcement this evening changed all that: schools closing and exams cancelled. People have asked for both of these in recent weeks, but the suddenness of the announcement is shocking, especially given the very recent U-turn on the “herd immunity” policy, which looked like it was putting children and education staff on the front line.

So how should we feel about all this? Students, parents and staff all have a huge emotional investment in it, and it’s difficult to know what to say, think or feel right now. I have been working my way through a range of emotions and trying to reassure my students without having any of the answers they seek.

Reasons to be cheerful

So, what can we be thankful for? Firstly, the reassurance that children for whom school is their safe space have not been forgotten. Millions depend on school as their main food source, and a significant number do not have the support they need at home. Add the children of frontline key workers and schools take on a specialised role that is more about nurture than traditional education. There is a lot of uncertainty about how to make this happen, but we’ll get there.

Similarly, exams are a huge source of stress and anxiety for many students, so today’s news may have come as a huge relief. One sharp and intelligent young man I am working with will be enormously encouraged by the idea of being able to move ahead with his life armed with that essential pass in the GCSE course that has become his nemesis.

Unlucky for some

Others, who have spent years preparing to show the world what they are capable of, will feel cheated by the removal of this opportunity. They will wonder what to do with their time and may have colossal doubts about the future. They will need careful support and guidance to help them pick their way through what they could see as the wreckage of a promising academic career.

What next?

No-one yet knows how the break from school will affect our children or how the cancellation of exams will change college and university admissions. This is definitely one of those times where the only useful thing to do is focus on the now. Keep getting up in the morning, find something meaningful or enjoyable to do and keep looking after each other. This may be an out-of-control situation, but we still have choices about how we respond.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor, famously said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

That pretty much describes how mindfulness works. So with growth and freedom in mind, for me and for my students, that’s what I’ll be practising. When the future is ready for us, we’ll be here waiting.


Lucy Aditi is on a mission to help stressed students feel happier in their education. She helps them meet their goals through mindfulness-based coaching, giving them the skills they need to thrive throughout life.
Could online coaching help your young person get through this? Call 07714 195018  or email lucy@thelifetutor.uk for a no-obligation informal chat. 

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