04 SES 06 A, Tackling Exclusion Under Trying Circumstances: The Role Of Leadership
The impact of Covid-19 globally on children and young people (CYP) is having a catastrophic effect with the poorest and already disadvantaged bearing the brunt (UNICEF, 2020b). The United Nations highlights the devastating impact of the pandemic on CYP: on their physical health (Editor, 2020; UNICEF, 2020b); the risk of greater exposure to abuse and neglect; and the deleterious effects of interrupted schooling. Around 1,383 million CYP world-wide have been affected by school closures, impacting on progress towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education (UNICEF, 2020b). In early April 2020, in 188 countries, 90% of CYP enrolled for schooling were not in attendance at school (Lee, 2020). Impoverished CYP are most affected (Van Lancker & Parolin, 2020) with a lack of access to facilities to support online learning (UNICEF, 2020b). 60% of children in primary schools and 86% in low HDI-countries were unable to access education (Editor, 2020). The impact of lockdown, school closures and restrictions in population movement have the effect of heightening inequalities and disrupting social functioning globally for CYP (Editor, 2020).
Amidst increasing concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of CYP (Inchley, Mokogwu, Mabelis, & Currie, 2020; Mowat, 2019, 2020), the impact of social distancing, school closures (Lee, 2020; OECD, 2020; UK Government, 2020) and Covid-19-related family stressors (including bereavement (UNICEF, 2020a)) is likely to be highly significant for the socio-emotional and psychological development of this demographic (Wang, Zhang, Zhao, Zhang, & Jiang, 2020). In a literature-based study examining the relationship between poverty, attainment and the wellbeing of CYP, four key variables emerged which mediate the relationship – the macrosystem (policy, culture and values, systems and structures); the nature, quality and strength of networks of support around communities, families and schools, related, but not restricted, to social capital; achievement motivation, likewise, related, but not restricted, to cultural capital; and psychological impacts related, amongst other things, to trauma (Mowat, 2019, 2020). All of the above will have been impacted significantly by Covid-19.
The quality of school leadership has long been recognised as a key variable in creating inclusive, equitable, caring and compassionate schools (Hooper and Bernhardt, 2016). This is particularly to the fore in times of crisis. Therefore it is crucial to reflect on the degree to, and ways in which, headship preparation programmes prepare aspiring head teachers to support their school communities in such a context.
This empirical study builds on a previous study to examine the efficacy of the Into Headship programme as it is delivered at a university in the West of Scotland and to examine how aspiring head teachers take on the identity of headship. It is a masters level programme delivered in the course of a single academic year in partnership with Education Scotland. The study sought to establish from the perspective of former and current students on the programme:
1. How they have responded to supporting their school communities during and in the immediate aftermath of lockdown?
2. How have they sought to support the most disadvantaged students and their families?
3. What challenges have they faced and how have they sought to overcome them?
4. Have the approaches adopted been considered to be efficacious by them?
5. To what degree and in which ways has the programme prepared them to meet the challenges of Covid-19?
6. How might headship preparation programmes be modified to meet the challenges posed by a rapidly changing political landscape from a global perspective?
This paper will focus specifically on the responses of former and current students to supporting those families and children considered to be most at risk from the adverse impact of the pandemic.
This, principally qualitative, study is intended to be carried out in two phases. The first phase, the focus of this paper, consists of an online survey based on an open-ended questionnaire administered to three cohorts of Into Headship students (N= 121) which offers the opportunity for respondents to volunteer to participate in phase 2. Ethical approval was sought of the university. The survey was initiated in June 2020 towards the end of the first lockdown in the UK when schools were closed other than to children of key workers and vulnerable children. 60 students responded, principally from cohorts 2019 and 2020. The survey also gathered demographic data, related to sector of education, school role, urban/rural setting and the percentage of children in the lowest quartile of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). Phase 2 of the study will consist of individual interviews and focus group discussions with a purposive, stratified sample of those who have volunteered, conducted one year beyond the initial survey, most likely electronically. The criteria for selection of the sample will be: sector, role, urban/rural setting and the percentage of children in the lowest quartile of the SIMD. These will focus on the responses of interviewees to supporting their school communities in the intervening period. The analysis of data will be conducted via thematic analysis, drawing on a three-stage approach advocated by King and Horrocks, identifying, initially, descriptive codes which are then clustered into analytical codes from which over-arching themes will be derived (King and Horrocks, 2010). Analysis is underway.
The findings will reveal the challenges that prospective headteachers (some of whom will have, in the interim, taken up a headship post) have faced in meeting the demands of a rapidly shifting policy landscape in the midst of a pandemic and how they have sought to address them, particularly for those in the school community who are most disadvantaged. It will also identify those aspects of the Into Headship programme which have provided them with the knowledge, understanding, skills-set, confidence and resilience to address the needs of their school community and areas in which the programme could be strengthened. Early analysis is revealing some key aspects, such as changing perceptions of the role of headship, embracing the wider school community; and the importance of high quality communication; an inclusive, empathetic, responsive and flexible approach (reaching out to all families); the challenges of supporting family learning remotely; digital access; staff development in digital technologies; emotional labour of leaders and staff; child protection and welfare; mental health and wellbeing; building and maintaining community (a sense of belonging) and relationships; supporting transitions and mitigating the effects of poverty. It is expected that the outcomes from this study will inform public policy and practice not only with regard to supporting the school community during times of crisis but will also inform the nature of the developments needed to ensure that headship preparation programmes meet fully the needs of participants to lead their schools in a highly complex policy context in a compassionate and caring way. The findings should have relevance beyond the UK, particularly with regard to supporting the families of children perceived to be most at risk – such as refugees and displaced families.
References Editor. (2020). Prioritising children's rights in the COVID-19 response. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 4(7), 479. Hooper, M.A. and Bernhardt, V.L. (2016). Creating Capacity for Learning and Equity in Schools: Instructional, Adaptive and Transformational Leadership, London: Routledge. Inchley, J., Mokogwu, D., Mabelis, J., & Currie, D. (2020). Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) 2018 Survey in Scotland: National Report (MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Trans.). Glasgow. Lee, J. (2020). Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19 The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 4(6), 421. doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30109-7 Mowat, J. G. (2015). Towards a new conceptualisation of marginalisaion. European Educational Research Journal, 14(5), 454-476. doi: 10.1177/1474904115589864 Mowat, J. G. (2019). Exploring the impact of social inequality and poverty on the mental health and wellbeing and attainment of children and young people in Scotland Improving Schools, 22(3), 204-223. doi: 10.1177/1365480219835323 Mowat, J. G. (2020). Interrogating the relationship between poverty, attainment and mental health and wellbeing: the importance of social networks and support – a Scottish case study. Cambridge Journal of Education, 50(3), 345-370. doi: 10.1080/0305764X.2019.1702624 King, N and Horrocks,C. (2010). Interviews in Qualitative Research, London: SAGE publications. OECD. (2020). Trends Shaping Education: Spotlight 21. Coronavirus special edition: Back to school. Paris: OECD. UK Government. (2020). Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain. Retrieved from https://http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/14may2020 - understanding-the-impact-on-society. UNICEF. (2020a). COVID-19, global governance and the impact on children: In conversation with public health expert Devi Sridhar. https://http://www.unicef.org/globalinsight/stories/covid-19-global-governance-and-impact-children UNICEF. (2020b). How COVID-19 is changing the world: a statistical perspective. Paris: CCSA. Van Lancker, W. V., & Parolin, Z. (2020). COVID-19, school closures, and child poverty: a social crisis in the making (Comment). The Lancet Public Health 2020, 5(5), 243-244. Wang, G., Zhang, Y., Zhao, J., Zhang, J., & Jiang, F. (2020). Mitigate the effects of home confinement on children during the COVID-19 outbreak (Correspondence). The Lancet, 395(March 21, 2020), 945-946.
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