Pooky Ponders: How can boarding schools support children returning after lockdown? | Sue Baillie

Today’s question is “How can boarding schools support children returning to school after lockdown?” and I’m in conversation with Sue Baillie

Sue is the Head of Queen Margaret’s School, York. This podcast was recorded during a period of pandemic lockdown in the UK but there are many evergreen themes here.

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Show transcript:

Please note that the transcript is auto generated

Pooky Knightsmith: welcome to pooky ponders, the podcast where I explore big questions with brilliant people. I’m pooky Knight Smith. And I’m your host today’s question is how can boarding schools support children returning to school after lockdown? And I’m in conversation with Sue Bailey.

Sue Baillie: I’m Sue Bailey. I’m the head of queen Margaret school. New York at queen Margaret’s is a boarding school for girls aged 11 to 18. Um, I’ve been the head here just for a year. Um, but in a previous life, I’ve run a boarding house. Um, and I’ve been working boarding schools for about half of my career and the other half of my career I’ve been working in pastoral care.

Uh, in, uh, big day schools. So background in boarding and in day schools. And always, 

Pooky Knightsmith: yeah, we’ve kind of children and people’s wellbeing and staff actually, um, right at the heart of what you’ve been doing. And that’s how we’ve come to know each other over 

Sue Baillie: the years. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And so we wanted to think today about the specifics of children who are boarding and how boarding schools can support those children.

And I guess their families, as well as we come to the kind of wider return. Um, after lockdown and I kind of wondered what your initial thoughts on this. Are you having to think about this as a, as a head, um, as a mum as well? 

Sue Baillie: I think my concern really the heart of my concern is just the length of time that, um, children have been away young people from away from their boarding homes, um, and their boarding lives.

Um, I think for most. Young people, boarding is what their boarding school is a second home. Um, and they, they feel very comfortable there. Um, they, um, they don’t see this as an alternative as a citizen, you know, as Nottage. Um, but they haven’t been in the routines of home in boarding first six months. By the time they, they come back to just in September, many of them will have left in a hurry.

As the school was closed down. Um, so, um, quite a few of course would have gone abroad as well. Um, and we’ll be coming back from homes overseas. So, um, it’s hard to be away from home and come back and just come back into routines and feel comfortable in your second home when you’ve been away for so long.

And particularly when you’ve been away and been with your parents and been in a very different environment for such a long time. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And do you think that there are things that you can do, like during this time in, in the kind of the lead up to it, or will it all be about what happens when a young people arrive back home?

Like with you, 

Sue Baillie: I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this, actually, I think, um, there’s quite a lot that we can do as schools before the start of term. Um, just to allay fears. I think one of the key things that we have got to remember as school leaders. Is that whilst we’ve been, um, deep into regulations into trying to predict the COVID world and trying to work out, if we can make, um, classrooms work at two meters, if we can, you know, how dawns might be organized and things like that whilst we’re really into it.

Um, actually the children, aren’t the young people. Aren’t, they’ve not read the regulations, um, nor have their parents. Most of them. And they won’t have thought through any of the, um, the issues that might arise, orientate that have thought through and not know the answer. I’m feel very, very uncertain about what they’re coming back to.

Well, how is it going to work when there’s, um, you know, there’s usually five of us in a room, how’s that going to work now? That kind of thing. And so I think the key thing is not to assume they know. Uh, and I, and, um, you, every decision that’s been made in schools, um, may well have been communicated to parents and staff, but even if there’s been attempts to communicate that to young people, Um, over the course of the summer holidays that will have just gone in one ear and out the other.

So I think there’s a lot of preparation that we can do in terms of, um, the call videos. It’ll walkthroughs. When you arrive in school, this is how, uh, this is how to look. We’re going to, um, ask your parents to park their cars here. Um, you know, how Smith will take you to your boarding house. However, however, the schools are going to run that and then also reassuring them about the hygiene systems, the one-way systems dining, those things must have all children when they’re coming back to school in September, but for boarding children, um, you know, it’s, it’s 24 seven.

So. They want to, they really want to understand, well, how will it be if I want to go, if I want to get a hot chocolate, how will it be when I’m going down to breakfast and meeting my friends from different boarding house? Or how will it be normally? Where are we in bubbles? What’s a bubble. How are we going to bubble?

How can I hug my friends? In a girls school that girls constantly hugging each other. It’s kind of what they do. Oh, it’s let me see you. And, um, they need some reassurance and some guidance and some preparation. And I think actually videos work quite well to the YouTube clips because they can watch them as many times as they want to.

Yeah, I’m getting that sense of what’s going to happen. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Well, is it going to look like, I mean, are they allowed to hug each other? Are they, what does happen if they want to go and get hot chocolate? I mean, what are the answers 

Sue Baillie: to some of these questions? And actually the answers are pretty reassuring. Um, most schools, uh, operating in, uh, in bubble systems.

So they’re going to, uh, operating year group bubbles, the boarding schools that are used to a more vertical system of boarding. So there, where they have, um, Children from year, each year group within one boarding house. Quite a few of those schools are moving to horizontal boarding so that the bubbles are intact and they would have told their parents about last already.

Um, but once they’re in that bubble, then, um, their distancing is, uh, less controlled than it needs than it need be in, um, in a work environment, an agile environment, for example. So, uh, in our boarding houses, Now are your grips have bubbled? Our boarding houses have bubbled. We will. Um, we will, where we can put some distance in dorms.

We will. So some of the dilemmas may be a bit more spacious than the, than the girls are used to, but they will be in dorms still. They’re not going to be an individual cells because I think. Government regulations have allowed us to make a judgment about what’s right. For, for, for young people. Um, and for me, um, it’s really clear that the, that what’s right has to balance emotional health and wellbeing against COVID risk.

You know, it’s not one or the other and there’s a balancing to had to be had. And, um, I can’t, I, I have no interest in, um, having. Young people in a situation where they feel entirely isolated in their second home as a result of being put in single rooms, for example, and things like that when they want to be with their friends.

So, um, there will be precautions in boarding houses in terms of shared. Um, communal areas, there’ll be less opportunity just, just to go for a hot chocolate. There’ll be much more of a routine around that. Um, as ID precautions, as a cleaning precautions and so on, and the, um, but also, uh, need to be a community is really important.

And I, um, and we have that opportunity in the regulations to make that judgment and to risk assess that. And that’s what most schools are doing. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And are you having to. Not in that kind of routine around sort of, um, uh, kind of downtime and leisure time and prep time, all those kinds of times you having to do that all in different ways than you normally 

Sue Baillie: would, or if you ha, if you with horizontal boarding, not particularly.

So, uh, prep times, uh, the girls would normally be, or. Any school goals, boys would be in rooms or in this, in their bedrooms studying. And that stayed the same cause they’ll still be in their bubble. Um, the main difference they’ll feel, um, will be that, uh, it will be dining. I suspect that if they are not dining in their, in house bubbles and they’re dining centrally, as we do here at queen Margaret’s, then the, um, the bubbles will have to die in separately.

So there won’t be that mixing of the year groups and we, um, but of course has issues when their siblings at the same school. So in a different year groups and, uh, we’re, uh, looking at how we can provide space for, um, sisters, brothers, and sisters and other schools that they’ve just got an opportunity to be together, um, safely too.

So, but it will have to be in a separate area so that we don’t mix all your groups and mix all bubbles. But generally 

Pooky Knightsmith: speaking children wouldn’t be mixing unless the siblings, they wouldn’t be mixing the children from other year groups. 

Sue Baillie: Yeah, yeah, 

Pooky Knightsmith: yeah. That’s um, it seems a shame and I get that, that needs to happen for the kind of physical safety, um, and prevention of.

Of spread of the virus, but, um, I always understood that one of the great joys about boarding was those kinds of friendships that you make across different year groups, but maybe I’ve misunderstood that I don’t know what you’re thinking. 

Sue Baillie: No, I think that’s right. Um, and of course, one of the, I think that the underpinning that is the greatest joy, one of the joys of boarding is just the community has been one big family.

Um, and all schools I think are having to look at, um, how they. Um, underpin community in different ways. And lots of schools looked at that over, um, the lockdown. Uh, you know, how they have like Pecha await in an online world community and, um, lots of examples across the country, um, virtual sports days and, um, it challenges set by prefects and, um, opportunities for.

Different year groups to get together online, um, and, and try to mesh the, keep the community together and mesh it together. And certainly we worked hard on that ourselves. Um, it’s still lots more creative thinking to go up to happen. I think in terms of, um, trying to find opportunities for the community to come together, um, where there’s a house structure, that’s vertical, you know, there’s no reason why, um, You can’t operate, uh, distanced house meetings or distanced, chapels, something like that, where you get an opportunity to come together in a different way, but just not all at the same time.

So it depends on the space you’ve got. Yes,

Pooky Knightsmith: I guess that’s true. And, and how readily you’re able to kind of utilize the technology, I guess as well. Have there been any, um, kind of positives that have come about in the few weeks, um, prior to the 

Sue Baillie: summer holidays, 

Pooky Knightsmith: um, in terms of. The shrinking of the world, if you like via technology and so on.

I think we’ve all embraced it a bit. Have you, has there been any benefits there that you think you might hang on to even sort of after this is 

Sue Baillie: all your fault? Absolutely. I think, um, being able to, uh, connect better, especially with our overseas parents that certainly improved as a result of, um, of lockdown.

Uh, and I don’t think we will ever quite go back to parents’ meetings the way they were, which is kind of the carousel of parents were drifting around halls. We’re all familiar with his parents ourselves. I think the, the zoom assume parents, this conference was that it worked really well more than better than I think my colleagues thought it would.

And it meant that a lot more parents were able to, to speak to teachers and to, and to have, uh, some really important to their child’s learning. So definitely that’s a keeper. Um, and I think the, um, some of the, some of the approaches to learning in general, Um, and also just the, um, I think we finished the term, all of us feeling much more comfortable with this online way of working, um, and you know, and, and feeling able to have conversations, um, almost ad hoc on three screens.

It’s not the same as being in a, in a room with somebody, but if you’ve, as you get better at it is improves. Yes. So I think that’s part of it. And 

Pooky Knightsmith: have you used, um, sort of zoom and those other kinds of online technologies to, um, visit people’s and their families kind of in the home 

Sue Baillie: and able to do before?

Yeah, so we’ve, um, we used, we were a Google school, so we use Google meet as our, our main way of operating and, um, all the. She this, the girls had a weekly one-to-one meeting with their tutor every week. Um, so, uh, check in, um, and, uh, and then she was just getting in touch with parents and so on if needs be so that all all happened as it would have done in the real, in the real school.

And that was certainly really helpful in terms of supporting, supporting the peoples, because it just meant that we had a real sense of how they were getting on and they were able to share. And perhaps in a way that they couldn’t, when they’re online with their peers, they were able to share, you know what, actually I’m really struggling.

You’re calling upload or, you know, actually mom and dad are really busy and I feel a bit, a bit left out at home. Um, you know, there was some, actually some, some, um, low level, but important safeguarding, um, concerns that erosion, some of those conversations just said that we could squeak because it speaks to parents about and improve.

Um, just the way that the, the, the children were, were getting on certain, they were really, really making the most of their, of their online learning. And what if 

Pooky Knightsmith: the peoples told you about that? Um, sort of their concerns or the things that they’re looking forward to? Um, in September, 

Sue Baillie: um, they, uh, um, to a woman, girl, they are desperate to get back, to see each other.

They really have really, really missed. Um, their peers, their friends, um, are no amounts of online chats either through school or through non-school means house policy. And so on. None of that has replicated the, the, the feeling of being together and wanting to be together. And, um, some of them have been really quite lonely, um, as a result of being, uh, being away from home from school because they, because their borders and their connections are with their boarding.

Family, um, uh, who was scattered far and wide. They don’t have a local community in the same way around home. Some of them do. And some of them all day girls and they all, they live relatively close to school and they do, you know, they, they have been able to support each other, but the majority of our girls that come from all over the world all over the UK and they don’t have, they didn’t have that foothold in their local community where their parents lived in the same way.

So they, so there was a real sense. There was more of a sense of heightened sense of isolation. I think then for boarding girls and they would have been for per se. So they’ve really, really missed you each other. And they’ve missed the facility of the school to kind of basically facilitate their, um, social life and their, and their interactions with each other.

And they’ve missed, they’ve missed that. And, um, it’s hard as tries. You might, at the end of the day, you, you caught, you simply can’t replicate online. Sitting around. Just having a good old chatter, absolutely. To a 

Pooky Knightsmith: teenager. You mentioned before about how, you know, it was tricky for some of them because it was quite a sudden ending.

And, you know, normally, presumably when you’ve had children, who’ve been at the school for a long time, then you have to facilitate that ending quite carefully, I would imagine. But in this instance for some of them, it will have been the very and quite quickly. And so how did you kind of manage that and have you managed the fallout 

Sue Baillie: from that?

I’m a great believer as you know, Pay him a great believer in good endings. I think, um, you know, you, you need to end well and to have it robbed from you. I think rightly may uh, felt, uh, was the greatest injustice for many of the girls, um, for six girls in particular, who were in the last year and we’re looking forward to a hurt their final term of, of experiences, not just a levels, but also the speech day and the leavers ball and all the things that go along with that, that coming of age really.

Um, what we did. I mean, we, in the days, as the school came to its close, um, from the government’s regulations, the girls began to head home. Um, uh, but on the very last afternoon, we had about a third to a quarter of the school left. Um, uh, we gathered in our quiet garden in our grounds hair, um, and has an end of term service, um, some prayers and thoughts.

Um, and just an opportunity to come together as a community and say goodbye for now, at least. Um, and it was just, it was quite moving, very moving actually. And it was really important that those who could attend dead and that they could just take that moment. So I promised the upper sec, uh, uh, and we’ll stick to it that they would have their, um, That proper end of term ball and so on when, when the time is right, when we were allowed to do that and they can really enjoy that moment.

And in fact, I’ve sent them a questionnaire asking when they would like it, so that I had a sense of, of what’s right for them. All right. Wow. Um, and the, uh, and then for me now, the priority is, um, thinking about a good start. And I think bringing the school back together in a slightly different way, rather than the sort of usual end of the start of term arrival and find your room and things like that.

It’s just trying to think of how we can safely, um, have a little bit of sense of occasion of being back again and trying to bottle some of the joy. They will be in that first 24 hours as the, um, as the bills come back to the school. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And what thoughts do you have about that? How do you think you might be able to enable like good start?

Sue Baillie: Ha so we, um, so some of our ideas, uh, include, um, hoping usually the weather is very good. When we come back to schools was slightly annoying. That you for the first couple of weeks of September, always good. If it’s rained up through throughout August, um, a bit of a fair, actually a bit of a country fate, feel to things.

Um, so we can, um, uh, keep the distance, keep the bubbles, keep some, we need to keep some control over arrivals and so on, but we can, um, we we’ve talked about, um, having picnic hampers prepared a family so they can have a bit of a picnic. They’re welcome to stay for as long as they need to. In their area in their bubble.

Um, whether we get an ice cream van in, we get some, you know, get a decent coffee ban in and just really try to make it a celebration and sort of God and fate type feel is kind of where our thoughts are going. And that’s quite, um, that’s pretty much all minor kind of schools. That’s how the school feels.

So it’ll be different in different places, but we’ve also got girls and overseas girls coming back early because they have to quarantine. I was going to ask 

Pooky Knightsmith: about that because you’ve got kids coming from all over the world. So what does that look like? 

Sue Baillie: Practically? So practically that means that we’ve got girls arriving here from the 20th of August.

Uh, and we’re going to look after them in that incident there, um, quarantining unfamiliar surroundings with their friends. Um, as they, as they fly back, uh, and we’ll pick them up from the airport and bring them straight back to school, feed them, we’ve got a program of activities and some, um, additional EAL teaching customer.

Their English might be a bit rusty after six months. Yeah. The way 

Pooky Knightsmith: this quarantine looked like, I mean, do they, so they can be together in quarantine, 

Sue Baillie: we’ve made the decision that they can be. It’s not self isolation and not, none of them will have COVID. I will say they wouldn’t be able to join us if that was the case.

Um, but if they. Um, so, so they don’t need to self isolate, but they do need to quarantine. So we’ll, we’ll have them in, uh, in one of the boarding houses. They can, they’ll be in separate rooms, but they’ll be able to, um, eat together, um, uh, you know, on and on and undertake some of these activities, bits of sport, bits of learning and so on together.

Two. And then we’ve got a, um, a COVID prepared, uh, medical center so that if there are any ones that’s taken out, uh, if there’s any concerns about their, about their health and we can put those, um, routines into, straight into, into practice, if there’s any concerns during quarantine and the school will be coming 

Pooky Knightsmith: to you in a moment.

So quarantine is basically. Yeah. What’s the difference between self isolating and quarantine? It’s probably something, you know, inside out. 

Sue Baillie: I think that the key thing is is that if you are self isolating, then you, I mean, no one should go near you because you have COVID. Okay. So you’ve got the, you’ve got the symptoms of COVID.

You’ve had a test. If you told yourself isolate, um, the, the children that are, that are returning to us, um, not, not COVID. Do you not have COVID symptoms? So they are just asked to stay at home, to provide if it’s the same as new cases, since coming back from Spain at the moment, providing dress, um, and stay within that address, the family members in that address, don’t have to self isolate, but you do have to try to keep away from just thinking of the boarding of the boarding house as a household, they’re joining their household.

Um, and then, uh, and then we to cost them from that point, there’ll be a temperature checks every day. Um, our, our medical team will be back on site by the, to, from the 20th as well. So that we’ve got that oversight of their, of their quarantine period. And we’ve also, we’ve got a sports camp running here at the moment.

Um, but that finishes on the 19th of August so that we’ve got no one coming on to site other than our, our stuff and girls from 20th. And it means for having a longer school. Yeah, it does. Yeah. I mean, we, we using, um, uh, an outside company, um, who would normally provide a language school anyway, during the summer holidays.

And of course lost that business. Um, they’re going to look after the girls during the day. Okay. Program 

Pooky Knightsmith: like them with some business as well. Yeah. 

Sue Baillie: Yes. Yeah. And then we, and it’s just our staff who to pass them pastorally. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Okay. Okay. Gosh, there’s so much to think about isn’t that it you’re having to keep going close, watching brief on what’s happening worldwide with regards to COVID because it may be that there might be some countries from which we wouldn’t ex I don’t really know.

I mean, yeah. What are you having to think about those things too? 

Sue Baillie: So, well, I think all schools are, it runs dependent. It depends really on the individuals. Where they’re coming from. Yeah. Um, and really following foreign and Commonwealth office advice is the, uh, is the only, it’s the only really only game in town.

Um, and also having a good, um, good relationship with the, with the, like with public health, England, the local and the no area so that you can take some advice if you need it. But, um, For us, most of our girls are from Europe or overseas. Girls are from Europe and from the far East. So it’s relatively straightforward.

But I think if you’ve got girls that are cut and boys coming back from South America or from the African continent, then it may well be trickier. Well, right now how the States 

Pooky Knightsmith: yeah. And are you having to, um, so, so you said you’ve kind of, you’ve, you’ve got your, um, medical wing is kind of COVID ready as well.

So you’ve had to think quite carefully about that. What does that mean? 

Sue Baillie: So that means that we’ve got, uh, we’ve got zones within the medical area. So, um, there’s a crisis of, um, perspective around the school in general. One of the things that obviously I’ll be showing the girls on my YouTube. Videos. Um, so that the medical staff can assess girls as they arrive at the medical center, um, straight away, but safely in terms of what made me wrong.

And then basically our center is divided into green, Amber and red. So, um, green for girls who have. Uh, no symptoms of COVID. They’re not, they’re not presenting with anything. They, you know, they’ve, they’ve sprained their ankle, um, umber. So girls who have symptoms of KV, but he gets to be tested and then read to girls who have had a positive COVID test and they’ll have to self isolate, um, safely and away from everybody else.

Um, very, I was very keen when we were planning it, not to have, um, the girls with red girls. Um, just thinking it through as a mama. She’s very interesting. If you think it through as a, as a parent, um, some of the decisions you make a different from the ones you might think through as a, just as a, as a head, as a parent, I didn’t want, um, uh, my daughter who may just have turned up with a nasty cold.

To be put in a red zone with girls who are obviously have Kahoot who are known to have COVID when she may not have COVID at all, she might just have a cold, and that will be the case, all the usual coughs and sniffles. And, um, that happened in schools, on the return to school in September. And there’s not there.

Every teacher in the country will recognize that they get, um, you know, that colds do the rounds in the first month of this school or the autumn term as all the children come back. Um, and that will be the same again, but somehow schools, all schools, whether they’re boarding schools or day schools are going to have to try to work out how they manage, um, the, the child that turns up with a sight temperature and a cough, that’s got a cold and the child that turns up the temperature and a cough that’s got COVID.

And how do we know? And how do we know? And then from the point of view of boarding, um, how do you report and no, one’s answered this one. Um, how’d you recall to that child? So if the child has it in a day environment, uh, if you, if you, as a school, I’ll concern that the child may have COVID-19, then you you’ll live in the parents, there’ll be in a, in a room, isolated you’re ringing the parents, ask the parents to come take the child and, and have them tested and keep that home until the test comes back in a boarding school.

We are the parents. Yeah. Um, but we don’t have access to testing on site. So, uh, we have two, so one of my staff will have to drive the child to a testing station or we’ll have to wait a test. And while we are waiting a test, we don’t know how long it’ll take for the test to right. And we’ve got to try and look after it.

Very scared. Wow. Young Crescent. So you who hasn’t got you, haven’t got mum saying, be fine. Don’t worry. We can do all that. It’s not quite the same as your mom’s saying that. And, um, and we’ve got, you know, the thought of, and I think again, for all schools, this is the case. If you, at the moment you suspect that a child has COVID-19 and your medical staff, Don full PPA.

Now, if you’re 12 years old, Leave aside if you’re much younger, but if you, you know, there’s prep certainly prep schools, that board they’ll have younger children than that. But if you’re 10, 12 years old, you think you’re 14 actually. And somebody said that you might have COVID hang on a minute and they come back fully with the proper medical PP on.

I think that’s really scary, so scary. And you, you and, and, um, Somehow we’ve got to a schools, prepare the children for that without frightening them too much. And making it feel that they’re in some kind of alien environment invested in the arts, but that’s the reality, to be honest, he is just that person who is, um, dealing with them.

I spent to the medical professionals dealing with them. It’s meant to wear full PPE. Wow. Um, so, and I, I barriers the whole time. It’s just barriers, barriers, barriers at the very moment when the thing you want to do as a caring individual human being, it is not have the barriers. It’ll be all right. You’ll be fine.

But we just need to really help us to communicate that when you’re

Mosque. Yeah. Full surgical down. And there’s no, I don’t eating. I think there’s all kinds of precise the back of our minds over the last few months, when we S since the regulations came out in getting a July, because it. I 

Pooky Knightsmith: suppose you had a horrible thought. Yeah, you hope it doesn’t happen, but at the same time, you have to be completely prepared for what if it does, don’t you, 

Sue Baillie: you too.

And I think, you know, we would, I was reflecting on this with a colleague earlier today, you know, at the beginning of the summer holidays, I think nationally, we felt quite positive in it. We were coming out of lockdown. The rates seem to be improving. Um, you know, I was, I was wondering whether I’ve been too, too cautious in some of mine.

My decision making. Um, and yeah, it’s just, we’re talking now at the end of July, um, is the talks for second wave in Europe, the sense that really things are not quite as controlled as we might like. And, and therefore actually, probably we do need to think about some of these things that these things will be reality for us and in September, um, and managing student wellbeing, um, and also stopping, uh, particularly girls school, but in all schools, actually the drama.

Someone gets someone, has it someone sneezes? Oh my gosh. They’ve got COVID. Oh my goodness. We’re gonna, you know, I’m just trying to manage and educate. And how 

Pooky Knightsmith: are you planning on that? I mean, have you thought, are you building a sense of some of your sort of PSHE curriculum and then that kind of thing, or 

Sue Baillie: so building it into our PSHE curriculum, um, building it into our first, into the first few days back, um, some schools I know, you know, I’ve got a very different first starts their term.

They not having a normal timetable. They’re really giving, um, Their children’s homes have come together and get, and get to know each other again, really, and just feel and feel comfortable in their, in their environment. And, um, And we will do the same. I don’t think we feel, I want to feel my way a bit. I think there’s going to be, so there’s going to be such a diversity of experience amongst the girls.

Yes. Uh, I think generalizing could be the worst possible for every party. So it’s just really an unfortunate is a relatively small school that we can be quite individual in how we, and how we support everybody and age wise too. It’d be very different. How you support an 11 year old is gonna be very different than how you support 17.

Yeah. And I 

Pooky Knightsmith: think everyone, you know, it’s one of the things I keep coming back to, everyone’s going to have a different story to tell. And some of those stories will be positive and some will be negative and many will be somewhere in the middle. But I think particularly in a close knit community like yours, but where people have been scattered all over the world and across the country, that they will be hugely different experiences.

And I would imagine there’ll be a great appetite for hearing what each other has been up to and what they look like as well. 

Sue Baillie: And I think, um, you know, and allowing people to, that’s also not to judge that because it mean teenagers, very worried about how, you know, what will they think if I say, well, basically I spent most of my lockdown in birdwatching.

Yeah. I had one of my girls has done exactly that and she’s had a fantastic time. Um, and others who’ve had perhaps living in cities and have had a very different experience, um, as a result of quite close lockdown in their, in their, in their country. Hmm, um, and everything in between. Um, but all of those are valid experiences, um, and actually sharing that as a good way to bring the community back together.

Um, and giving opportunity for that sharing and, you know, and just realizing that, um, I think it is quite important. And do 

Pooky Knightsmith: you have any kind of expectations on what your girls should have been doing and how they should have used that time? Cause one of the things that I’ve been hearing and I’ve heard it a lot from adult friends, but increasingly from teenagers, is this idea that.

So many people, if, you know, learn a new skill or written that novel finally, or whatever, during, as this very view of what should have happened. I mean, I don’t know about you. I’ve basically just been trying desperately not to say, 

Sue Baillie: well, I think that, that I know. And I think that, that, and actually, I think that’s the majority of people, that’s exactly what’s happening.

It’s been about just trying to keep going. Um, and I, I, and no, I, so I have no expectations. I think basically, you know, the joy will be that we’re simply together. Yeah. Um, and, and we live and some of us won’t realize what positive experiences we’ve had until years down the line. Um, and you know, and others will feel, um, I wonder some of the, I think some of the girls and the families will feel a little bit for raft, actually, that this is over, you know, they’ve had, they’ve had a special time, which they never thought they were going to get together.

And, uh, coming back into boarding, coming back into routines, we’ll fill a little bit at the end of something, the end of an era, almost six months of being family, 

Pooky Knightsmith: particularly for your board doesn’t mean it will be the longest they’ve spent as a family for years 

Sue Baillie: for some of them, some of them. Yeah. Some of them that’s been a real joy for others.

That’s been quite tricky. Yeah. Um, you know, some of them don’t want to be parents for six months and, um, and, and I, and I’m concerned too. Um, to support my families, not just my girls. Um, cause I wa um, worry is a strong word, but I’m concerned that actually the parents and the mums are going to struggle a bit with all of this.

Yeah. This isn’t just about the girls. It’s actually about the family and the mums. If you perhaps connected with their daughters in a way that they hadn’t anticipated even moms who. Um, yeah, your board is absolutely what they do. You boarding families through and through really believe in it. Love it so glad that there was a back, but actually just that sense of yeah.

Yeah. Now my girls gone. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And do you think there will be more kind of separation anxiety? I mean, presumably you get some degree of that when, when children come back to boarding each year anyway, but do you think it might be more so this year? Because 

Sue Baillie: I think so. I anticipate that having said that I don’t want to judge anybody.

I do anticipate more with that. Yeah. And I know sharing with you earlier, my daughter, um, who will be 10 in September, she’s gone to dismiss flexible order for a couple of, for a year, a couple of nights a week. And, um, and certainly that’s been the separation and just the attachment and so on has definitely changed as a result of, of this, um, And, you know, in the end in a good way, I think I’m not it’s it, but it, but it has changed.

And I think as parents and as educators, uh, being cognizant of it and aware of it will help us to support the girls and their families and children and their families when they come back to school. And also to be aware of it, not in the first 48 hours of joy and excitement, but actually in that.

Downward. Yeah. Right. Oh, right. So I really can’t sit and suffer with, with, with many Molly Amandy

things I write. This really is different. Yeah. Oh yeah. Moms stayed a couple of packs. Quite often. Parents will stay a couple of nights nearby and then had, and then head off. Um, and when they know their parents had gone back home and so on, I think that’s the time when we’ll be, um, we’ll need all our reserves to emotional energy, to support the girls and girls and boys.

Pooky Knightsmith: I can imagine that will be quite tricky. And what you said you, you were, am I completely empathized with the idea of, of needing to think about how to support the families, as well as the, the, the girls children? What, what will you be doing? I mean, what does that look like? 

Sue Baillie: I think we’ve tried throughout the lockdown to do that.

So plenty of communication, um, with families, um, I think frequency and, um, and not too wordy if you can, if you can manage it. And some of my, um, communications last term were video rather than letter. Okay. Um, and just trying to connect with them a little bit more, um, I think trying to make the start of term that dropping off as humane as possible in a situation that will feel less than that.

Um, normally. Parents would, uh, part of the, of the Rite of passage almost is that, you know, you take, you go up to the dorm and you help your child unpack and get things put away and you sit on the bed and none of that’s possible, you know? Um, and so that’s what could be a very sterile and difficult start.

Um, that’s really why the again was where that, where the sort of guard and fate idea is coming from is just trying to find ways to. Um, reach out to parents and make, uh, you know, and realize that, you know, we’re still the welcoming place we’ve always have been and, um, and, and find ways and opportunities and routines that enable parents to be part of their children’s life.

Uh, even if they can’t physically be in the same room, 

Pooky Knightsmith: you know, you’re going to have to budget for that fight every year. 

Sue Baillie: I know. I don’t know if it’s too good.

If I had to buy some more bunting that’s small price to pay for getting it. Right. Maybe you could have the girls 

Pooky Knightsmith: who were coming back early for quarantine, make it in the evenings, or, yeah. 

Sue Baillie: Yeah. And it’s just that sense of, um, of joy. Yeah. It’s not been an entirely joyless experience, locked down from it for most of us, you know, there’s been times of rates, strain.

I prefer everybody. Um, but not, yeah, but not wholly. Yeah. Um, and for those, and for those, um, families where schools are aware that that has been a particular difficulty, then, you know, there’s already a lot of support and work going in there to support those families already. But, um, to try and bring some.

Joy back into being together. I think as locked down East, we found that as just as individuals and as families and friends, you just having, being able to have a socially distance, distance, barbecue suddenly became a really lovely thing to do, which would have been routine before me. So I think it’s valuing knowing what to value.

Pooky Knightsmith: I it’s interesting, hasn’t it? I think it’s, yeah, I think it’s just been a, if nothing else, it has been a moment of real reflection and working out what really matters. And I think when everything’s suddenly taken away, you do appreciate certain things and you realize the things that really really matter to you, don’t you.

Sue Baillie: And that’s true for the, and that’s true for young people as well as, as much as it is for, for parents and adults. Um, and I think they steady talking to. Some of my girls, um, that that really has been part of that. If they’re thinking, you know, w what is it that matters? Things that really matter in some of the girls who’ve been at the sports camp, actually, some of my girls, and they just can’t wait to get back to school.

I just want to see Mrs. So-and-so. I just want to, you know, that there’s some of the very smallest things, some of the very know some of the very routine interactions that things that they’ve most met. Yeah. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And obviously the pandemic, isn’t the only thing that’s been relevant during this time. So the other like massive agenda for everyone, but teens in particular seem to be really keen on it is the kind of the black lives matter movement.

Um, and is that something that’s kind of coming up for your girls and is it something you’ll be looking to specifically address on their 

Sue Baillie: behalf? I mean, we addressed that very specifically during. Last term. So during the joy George flood process. And so when we were very, um, some assemblies, um, my pedal history did a great presentation and so on, on, uh, the impact of black lives on British history.

And, uh, we made some choices, change is ready for this term in terms of our approach to diversity, um, and our, uh, you know, uh, look at. Um, how we, how and what we teach. Um, so for us, for us, there is a con it’s a continuum, uh, and the unsteady, the girls appreciated the opportunity to, um, think deeply about the issues that the, that the protest raised that black lives matter raises and will continue to raise.

Um, and, uh, we had, uh, one of, uh, one of the senior prefects was always the senior prefect international. Um, and I’d already made a decision to, um, change that to inclusion, uh, because I think it’s also raised, uh, for all girls and I think probably the most school communities, not just issues around black lives matter, but also issues around the support and the approach that we give to, um, To families, young people of all kinds of all genders of all types.

Um, and you know, and indeed my own sort of passion around supporting mental health in young people. Um, you just, just allowing Congress a proper conversation, the same way that black lives matter encourages us to have proper and deep and difficult conversations. Um, the same is true and should be true to facilitate a number of conversations about all kinds of things.

And has that 

Pooky Knightsmith: been, was that a sort of driven by, um, staff and kind of, you know, seeing that this is a, you know, issue for everyone, or was this driven by your students? Was it kind of a combination of the two? 

Sue Baillie: It’s a combination of the two, um, All students, my girls were particularly, uh, you know, uh, particularly aware of their privilege.

Um, and I’m very proud of the fact that they, that they recognize their privilege. Um, and what they want to learn is how best they use it for the right in the right way. Um, and I, I think, um, children in schools such as mine, um, They are socially engaged and they are, um, deeply ethical. Hmm. Uh, and they sometimes put potassium as teachers and adults to shame with that real passion and sense of, of right and wrong, but what they want to do, they’ve got, you know, we, we say this, you know, our job is to educate young people, to think for themselves.

And then we shouldn’t be surprised when they have thoughts. We don’t like, then they are allowed to have. How to think that’s the whole point, not meant to come out of education, having it, being stereotypes of, uh, you know, the teachers that taught them they’re meant to come out as free thinking and deeply thinking, uh, young people, uh, who he wants to meet.

He wants to affect change and make a difference in their own lives and other peoples. So when they turn around to you and say, we think the school should be doing more for this, then you have to listen because partly because they’re that, that’s your success. Yeah. If they’re questioning, what if they’re questioning and asking you, you know, challenging you on your, um, on your standpoint, then, then we’re doing a good job.

Um, and the last thing we should be doing as educators is just, well, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Um, you know, you just don’t understand those schools can never possibly do that. Right? Tell me what it is you really want. What is it? You want this for? Why do you want it? Tell me that. Explain that to me.

And then we’ll see what we can do. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And presumably as your girls return in the autumn, then you’ll be thinking really carefully about how to kind of continue to engage with them, to find out how things are impacting. Cause we don’t really know, do we, I mean, we we’re making best guesses right now and you’re clearly planning really carefully, but we don’t know what’s going to happen next or how this might impact on them or what might be happening at home for some of them.

And they might have fears about, you know, what’s happening back at home if they’re away. 

Sue Baillie: And I think, um, Yeah. One of my concerns as an educator and as an educator, not just as a head teacher, but as an educator is that we have completely understandably have concentrated on how we support the most vulnerable children and how we support most vulnerable families.

That’s absolutely right. But, um, we th what about the, what about the children and the families who just said, no, we were fine. But actually aren’t and we’ve, you know, we’ve, we’ve known pre COVID. We’ve known that that is how, um, you know, the, the, the real difficulty in, you know, in supporting families and young people, particularly, um, in terms of mental health, like, you know what I see you all financially.

No. Yeah. There’s something that either there’s something not right. You just don’t seem yourself. You don’t, you know where your friends who said that, then a bit concerned about you now. And we’ve found ways over the last 10 years to open up those conversations and encourage young people and families to talk more openly about their mental health and for friends to come forward.

I saw that so much in the, in the last 10 years of the increase of friends coming and say, we’re really concerned about so-and-so. Um, And the same is true for the COVID experience. So yes, we need to support the most vulnerable children and families at those that have been shielding. Those that have suffered bereavements those, we, we, we know about those and we know we’ve gotta do something for them, but what about the ones who just look you just say, no, we’re fine.

And you come to see over the course of a week or of the week months, that really isn’t the case. And what, and how do we support them. And we already pushed to support the others as well as teach and try to make up some of the, um, the ground that some of them will have lost through. Three being away from school, not home.

Learning’s worked really well for quite a few schools, but not for all, but not necessarily for all individuals. Yeah. It’s 

Pooky Knightsmith: a lot of challenges that aren’t there and unlike him, I’m worried and yeah, both in the context of COVID, um, more generally about the quiet ones in the middle. They’re the ones that really worry me that now I think we’ve always been good at the vocal minority and those whose.

Behavior kind of challenges in whatever way we hear them. And the, the vulnerable, we now are pretty good at picking up and thinking, how do we support? How do we enable those voices to be heard? But it’s the quiet ones in the middle that are just skirting by under the radar. They worry me the most. Um, and yeah, I think you’re right in this context too.

So maybe they haven’t been directly bereaved or directly affected in ways that are obvious to us, but that perhaps there’s stuff going on there. Is that, um, uh, are you having any changes in terms of the kids who are boarding? Have you had people who are no longer going to board or new comers, like, has that sort of changed as a result of, of this current picture?

Or is it broadly as you would expect in any normal 

Sue Baillie: year? Broadly, it sounds we would expect we’ve um, we’ve, we’ve introduced, uh, a simplified, um, COVID timetable for September. So learning the lessons of our similarly simplified timetable last term. So we have a temporary timetable operating, um, for the first term, probably for the first term.

Um, which means that they, for both, for us, there’ll be no sustained morning academic lessons and in boarding schools, that’s normal. Um, and, uh, so all of our academic lessons we’ll finish on a Friday at the end of school on a Friday. Um, there will be, uh, schools open on Saturday. There’ll be some guidance sport.

There’ll be an opportunity to go to the art room and carry on with your art and, and so on. But there won’t be any time type lessons. And the result is that some of the families or families have decided that for the short term, in that, in this. Different timetable. They’re going to weekly board so that girls will go home at weekends.

Um, but that’s the really, the only change that we’ve seen otherwise, uh, it’s very much, um, business as usual for our families. Actually, they, um, either that they, they, they, they carry on supporting us and supporting their daughters in the, in whichever. System, they were operating before, say some girls were full borders on girls with day orders, one night, a week.

That kind 

Pooky Knightsmith: of thing. Um, just, um, finally, in terms of new children who are new to boarding, um, are you doing anything different for them than you would normally to help them sort of transition in at this time? Or is it your usual kind of transition 

Sue Baillie: process? We’ve done what we can and our usual transition process.

They really miss out. Um, with any, we have a new girls day in June where they would normally have come into school and they would have, um, spent some time in there, bought it in the boarding house. We have a junior boarding house and spent some time there. I would have met. Some of the teachers would have met girls, mums would have met each other, which is also quite important.

Part of the settling in process. Um, we had a virtual, we had a new girls week where they dipped in and out of various things that were going on, um, which helps some of them, but I’m sure didn’t help all of them as much as they would like. Um, many of the things that we’re doing for all the girls apply for you at the same we can do for the, I don’t think there’s, I think.

Basically going for, I want to help everybody as much as I can. So I say the video walk-throughs for all the girls, there’ll be a few extra ones for the new girls, um, and some more introductions and some more personal videos and some of the, some of their key staff, so they can, um, have a sense of, you know, of what people look like and what the name of the dog is and things like that.

Yeah. Um, and, uh, whale. Just, uh, try to, um, help them as much as we can and also just support them and support their families. And it’s something that’s their families are worried about of course, because they haven’t had that same, same reduction, but that, but without physically being in school, it’s very, very difficult to, to do it, to do, to do more.

Pooky Knightsmith: Yeah, it sounds like you’ve got great measures in place though. And I think that often it’s the case, isn’t it? That young people actually just, they manage these things so tremendously. Well, I think somebody

Sue Baillie: just said that we overthink it. Um, and I think quite the very bottom line is there’s just quite simply be as positive and as open and as joyful as possible.

It’s kind of the way I go about things. So. Um, where, where, where we can use humor, use humor. There’s no reason why the wall, you know, the, my wonderful video walkthroughs can’t be with the dog. And, uh, you know, and here’s another piece of perspective. How many is that in this video? Just the things that can just help just to kind of bring a bit of sense of personality and fun back because there’s a lot of regulation on perspect screens.

Do not make you feel joyful? No, no. It’s the it’s people that make you feel joyful. And if one say there’s one thing that brought in schools do reading well, it’s people, you know, that’s what they write that they’re cutting through the middle chat. You can change the change of staff around, but ultimately the community is still.

And at its heart is, uh, know it’s what the place is about as the beating heart of the place in avoidance was why I love working in, um, in, uh, you know, and, and, and it’s remembering that and using that as the, as the basis for everything else that comes. What 

Pooky Knightsmith: thought would you like to close with? What thought would you like people who’ve been listening to, to go away with?

Sue Baillie: I think I would finish this by saying. Uh, the most important things to do to prepare if you’re preparing your child to go back to boarding is to let them talk about their, um, their, their, their expectations. Let them talk about their fears. Um, don’t just brush aside, get with with fine. Let, let them express how they’re, how they’re feeling about body, including if they’re just saying, you know what, mom, I can’t wait to get away from you.

It, all of those things are quite important. So just have a re have really open conversations, engage with the schools. Um, many of the schools will be doing is we’re doing sending videos and, um, and pamphlets and leaflets and all kinds of things to try and help with the communication, engage with those, um, use them.

And don’t be afraid as we get towards the beginning of September to pick up the phone and, and talk to you to your child’s school. Um, You, we don’t mind the more calm, the more conversations we have, then the better it’s going to be. .