As the summer creeps up on us in this climate of Covid-19 uncertainty when all usual routine and rituals are disrupted, it’s timely to be thinking about Year 6 primary school children as they approach the milestone of transition to secondary school.
For me, ‘endings’ evoke a kaleidoscope of experiences, memories and emotions. There are those I’ve initiated; some I’ve denied and even lied about; endings whose time frames have been decided by others (from early childhood through to the present); endings I’ve taken my time over deciding whether it’s going to be an ending or not; endings I initiated despite guilt-ridden self-criticism for selfishly abandoning those less fortunate than me; times when my body seemed to have sensed the clarity and clear-cut finality of an upcoming ending before my conscious mind was ready to accept it; how the difference in my perception and approach to endings has had a lot to do with control – was I in charge of the time frame or was it something or someone else?
On the evening of Wednesday, March 18, Boris Johnson announced school closures. Fewer than 48 hours later, the deed was done. During those 48 hours, some families may have had time to reflect and appreciate the poignancy of the ending thrust upon them. On that final school day, some parents and children may have been moved to tears, receiving and giving hugs at the prospect of not seeing each other face to face for a long time, or perhaps ever again.
Every year, as the end of the school summer term draws near, adults and Year 6 children prepare for a change that is both a rite of passage promising new and exciting opportunities and keenly felt loss.
Loss of ease of contact between the children who, come September will be attending different high schools; and loss of a sense of belonging and place, no longer a big fish in a small pond, but a small fish in a relatively large and unfamiliar pond. Many children have been in their primary schools for six to seven years, more than half their lives.
Endings aren’t just important in close friendships. Some children find that even though they don’t get along well with some classmates, as the prospect of separation looms, they recognise strengths and qualities worthy of respect and admiration. I expect Year 6 class teachers are often surprised to witness emotional leave takings between children, who in the past have fought, fallen out and refused to have anything to do with each other for days on end. There are unexpected life lessons in this Year 6 ending that can only be learned by experience.
In this ending, some children develop a capacity to face and embrace the truth – that someone who has been a thorn in their side forever, has in the end given them a gift – the gift of learning how to live well with others.
And this is one potential tragedy in the making: the nature of the ending for children in the present Year 6 could very well be decided solely in the context of Covid-19 lockdown requirements, protecting the vulnerable, keyworkers and the NHS by staying at home.
An ending decided by powerful adults, whose focus on protecting the physical health of all, makes them blinkered to the potential risks to mental wellbeing of children or to assume that they’ll bounce back and are probably too young to understand anyway.
My earnest hope is that Year 6 children will have a little time this term to reunite in their familiar classrooms, playgrounds, school halls and dining areas before transitioning to Year 7 and that they aren’t expected to sacrifice a significant ending that offers life lessons and resilience to take forward into their new worlds.
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Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.