Context of educational recovery across Scotland

For happy learners, and by happy I mean feeling safe and secure in their learning, there needs to be a fundamental rethink of some aspects of what we are doing in school. This week, there is a lot of talk about helping our children with their educational recovery in these unprecedented times. The conversation was mainly about increasing the number of hours for teaching and learning across crucial subjects (see TES). But we need to think this through from the learner perspective.

Failure to translate a trauma-informed approach into policy and practice risks damaging social inclusion even further across Scotland. We need to consider the challenges that young people are currently facing to strengthen equality and will be a significant focus for Government policy; education agencies and experts moving forward.

Closing the attainment gap in Scotland has been a significant priority before the pandemic hit. Pandemic and school closures have exposed the inequality in Scotland. The closure of schools has substantially impacted children and young people globally with the shift to online delivery. Illness, bereavement, and lost income have disproportionately affected impoverished families, involving young people’s mental and physical health.

Schools need to plan for the delayed impact of trauma.

Planning a recovery programme needs to build resilience across the whole school community – staff, pupils, parents, and carers. Pupils need stability to thrive in their lives. Yet we know COVID-19 has exacerbated this stability. School leaders and teaching staff were previously (pleasantly!) surprised when learners, for the most part, managed to settle back into learning unscathed. Some cancelled trauma-informed programmes and resilience training for teachers and support programmes for pupils. However, this is short-sighted. Research shows that the delayed presentation of trauma and consequences has long-term effects that may not show up in the classroom right away.

Here are some challenges related to learning and teaching and well-being support that require addressing in all school improvement efforts.

For happy learners, we need to rebuild their support services and networks

Pupils who were receiving support before the pandemic, e.g., home supervision, befriending, mentoring, counselling, etc. have been severely disrupted. Pupils who weren’t getting help before the pandemic may have become more vulnerable.  We have to focus on meeting their needs to ensure equality across the whole of Scotland.

Some young people will require a greater intervention level since the support networks around them have been damaged (schools, families) and so they cannot access resources.

Developmental Delay

happy learners playing with toysPhoto by BBC Creative / Unsplash

Many children, particularly those in the transition from nursery to primary or primary to secondary, have directly impacted their educational progress.

Developmental delays in speech and language are common, as are learners not at the expected level in their literacy and numeracy.

Death, or illness of family members, carers or friends have profoundly impacted children and young people. Severe loss may cause a lasting impact on young people’s emotional well-being and readiness to learn.


Throughout the school, several students will be experiencing decreased self-esteem, not necessarily those who were already struggling or be on the radar of staff before the pandemic.

Happy learners need to know how to handle Stress

There is strong evidence that many pupils are experiencing heightened levels of stress. Some have had to handle family circumstances changes, including divorce or relationship breakdown, loss of employment, moving house, not living with the parent or caregiver of their choice and bereavement. All these things have been occurring as a direct or indirect consequence of the pandemic. Many individuals are struggling to cope with stress and anxiety as a result.

Many young people will be living with a parent or caregiver who has been affected during COVID-19. The extended period away from the school environment means that they have lost access to a safe and supportive place where children can come and be themselves.


Many pupils struggle with resilience. By resilience, we mean the ability to bounce back from adversity and challenges that they face.  The loss of friendship and peer support, extended networks, family support, and the safe harbour of school will have taken an emotional toll on young people (and their families).


Many children and young people have reported an increase in their anxiety during the pandemic. Uncertainty about exams and the future has risen. Many have experienced trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following exposure to a traumatic event. Many children and young people have experienced the trauma of COVID-19, witnessing illness, death or injury to family members, friends or carers.


Young people who were less able to access resources during and after the pandemic may have become more vulnerable, and many feel isolated due to lack of social contact with friends, families and access to leisure.

Worry About Future

Many young people will worry about their future, particularly those close to a key transition stage. Some are worried about employment or the impact that teacher estimated grades will have on college or university prospects.

Help Rebuild Social & Cultural Capital

Young people will need mentors and caring individuals to encourage them to participate in recreation, sports, and youth work pursuits. These support services are vital for building social and cultural capital. By that I mean, widening their networks; increasing their confidence and life opportunities.

Services such as youth work and community learning and development are crucial in removing the barrier to participation that many young people face.

What Does This Mean for educational recovery Interventions?

There needs to be a systematic approach to school improvement work across teaching and learning, staff support, work with parents and carers and pupil support. Educational recovery requires direct action to support the entire school community. Everything should be trauma-informed.

Teaching and Learning

Scotland need to ensure schools have a greater focus on trauma-informed practice built into educational recovery plansPhoto by NeONBRAND / Unsplash

Teacher CPD will need to be at the heart of school improvement efforts, particularly in the school term commencing August. Our educators across all year groups in Scotland require support in meeting the needs of their pupils. A comprehensive strategy for staff development needs to ensure shared clarity about educational recovery priorities. Setting the climate for learner engagement so that there is an appetite to improve work and learners have high aspiration and clarity of expectations.

The focus for Teacher professional development

CLPL and CPD sessions should be on trauma-informed pedagogy. If you want happy learners who are secure and taking risks in their learning, our staff need a range of tools and interventions such as emotional coaching to equip them to deal with learners responses.

A systematic approach to differentiation will enable learners to see progress through actionable feedback, embedded peer-assessment, peer learning, and resilience. Also, a systematic approach to embedding mindset into learning and teaching so that pupils embrace and get the right level of challenge is critical. More so than before, this focus needs to be the systematic embedding of mindset modelled by all educators.

Teachers will need to work harder at learner engagement, and build experiences that truly encourage metacognitive thinking as pupils on their return to school will be craving stimulation; social interaction and the opportunity to work face to face and in groups.

Staff development and support should also focus on using innovative pre-assessments to prove progress and feedback and get the level of challenge right for all of our learners.

Teachers also need ongoing support to bolster their resilience and well-being, and they should not ignore or discount this need. Interventions like independent coaching can be effective in supporting leaders and teachers.   Coaching can provide focused support to the emotional and practical challenges they face daily and in processing their own recent experience of life during pandemic.

Pupil Support

Interventions need to focus on the mental health and well-being needs of learners, focusing on helping young people bolster resilience, work on confidence and self-belief, and manage stress and anxiety taking into account urgently the needs of learners entering into transition stages. School leaders would argue that there always has been this focus, but this has often, in reality, played second fiddle to attainment primarily focused on efforts to improve literacy and numeracy. True partnership working remains vital, as does effective referral mechanisms to relevant services and advice. Our happy learners need true inter-agency endeavours that have their needs at the heart of all activity.

The importance of guidance for supporting pupils and communicating with home is undeniable. A great opportunity exists to build on the beautiful relationships that exist with parents. Communication between teachers and parents has begun to transform in many cases, leading to an approach that values partnerships and relationships.

Happy learners need to process their lived experience.

Many learners are feeling less confident about their education and the future. The pandemic has already had an impact on young people’s self-esteem across the whole of Scotland. Many pupils are hesitant to seek help because they do not feel confident to do so. Therefore, this academic session’s objective should be created to encourage reflection and building opportunities for sharing feelings and thoughts and creating perspective. Families similar to ours particularly need this support too.

Experiential group work courses and programmes for pupils across all year groups, such as the iheart programme for primary and secondary (that enable learners to cope with their feelings and thoughts are essential. Read about our own programmes that can help with this.

Beware of one-off programmes – this does not lead to happy learners! Programmes such as Bounceback in itself are not enough for educational recovery. All aspects of improvement planning must include resilience and well-being work for all learners. Greater use of volunteers; community-based learning, non-profit partnerships, and outdoor learning can enhance the educational recovery process. Informal education needs to play a massive part in this effort from now on.

The beauty of the heart resilience programme is the focus on equipping children and young people with valuable skills that enable them to understand their mental wellbeing and take corrective action without the need for intervention further down the line.


Mentors and coaches are essential in creating a sense of belonging and bridging capital in our young people who have lost access to services. Having a mentor can increase confidence, well-being and help broker participation into further help and support. Having senior pupils mentor younger pupils also has a beneficial impact on the mentor’s resilience, confidence and attainment.

Peer mentoring and external mentors can boost self-esteem and confidence among young people; this should be planned, especially for secondary school pupils. Mentoring and coaching increases trust reduces stress and increases achievement.

Balance health and well-being for school improvement success

The evidence is clear in education that balancing health and well-being and attainment requires equal priority. The recovery of learning can only work in a planned way that involves the whole school community. Education institutions can build on the fantastic relationships with parents and carers and use new technology more effectively to support them meaningfully.

Decision-makers at every level need to balance ongoing support for a trauma-informed approach to educational recovery

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