'Schools are back! Yay', you shout as you sink into the sofa with a cup of coffee and a bucketful of relief. But as ever, this is a whole new phase of ‘normality’.
Unfortunately there is often a certain rhetoric used in education that we find to be unhelpful, the latest of which is the emphasis on the need to 'catch up'. Yet another burden of expectations and pressures are heaped on young people, just at the time when ‘recovery’ should mean a focus on holistic development and wellbeing. Dr Dan O'Hare, Educational Psychologist points out:
"The notion that children need to catch up or are 'behind' at school due to the pandemic reinforces the idea that children have 'one shot’ at their education and puts them under even more pressure to perform academically after what has been a challenging and unprecedented time for everyone."
The performing arts are a powerful force that should be at the forefront of bringing young people back together in a meaningful and healthy way. And here’s why:
Mental health – Worryingly, 67% of young people believe that the pandemic will have long-term negative effects on their mental health (Young Minds). The government’s new education catch-up tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, is aware of this, stating that:
“as well as lost learning, the mental health of children has been one of the major concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Even going back to school has been a stressful experience for many young people. Performing arts participation provides ideal ways for young people to alleviate their physical and mental stresses while meeting their social, emotional and psychological needs through collaboration and focussed engagement, bringing a sense of purpose and ownership to their lives and work.
Wellbeing - Young Minds have been pushing for a more holistic view of education to promote greater mental health and wellbeing in schools. Their ideal is to place psychological/emotional wellness at the centre of education to alleviate the pressure and stress placed on young people as a result of the focus on academic achievement. The performing arts offer inspiring and creative ways for young people to enhance their wellbeing through participating in learning activities that promote strong feelings of competency, friendship and control.
Social interaction - Removal from the normal social world through repeated lockdowns and ongoing restrictions impact young people significantly as social interaction is a vital developmental need for all. Clare Perkins, Director of the Mental Health Programme at Public Health England, said:
“The pandemic has caused significant disruption to all of our daily lives. Children are among the worse impacted, being stuck at home and not able to have the essential social interactions with their friends. Many young people are anxious and worried about their future in these uncertain times.”
The British Psychological Society suggest that children should be supported through socialisation and play, echoing head teachers' calls for a quality-over-quantity approach to learning. The performing arts play an important role in ensuring that young people feel part of a wider community, maintaining a vital element of pre-pandemic life and securing certainty where there would otherwise be further anxiety.
Continuity – As lockdowns are imposed and then lifted, maintaining a sense of continuity is difficult. Regular engagement with their friends and teachers at Stagecoach, whether online or in a venue, provides an ever-present, and ideal stabilising force for young people as they continuously move in and out of different learning models and bubbles.
Physical health – Ofsted’s recent report on the impact of the pandemic found evidence that some children had regressed in some basic skills and learning while others had significantly lost physical fitness. Physical activity is central across the performing arts and stimulates flexibility, strength and endurance.
Re-integration – There is a need for a holistic reintegration of children back into schools and performing arts provides an accessible way for that to happen. Sir Kevan Collins recently emphasised this point stating:
“I think we need to think about the extra hours not only for learning but for children to be together, to play, to engage in competitive sport, for music, for drama because these are critical areas which have been missed in their development.”
Feeling successful – All people like to feel successful and when this happens, we feel very motivated and engaged with what we’re doing. Social comparison occurs in all walks of life and our need to feel and demonstrate our competence has been neglected from young people’s lives during the pandemic. Performing arts provide multiple ways to promote self-expression, feeling successful and gaining enhanced confidence.
It is abundantly evident that people of all ages thrive through inspiring and meaningful engagement with high-quality performing arts. Whether it is online, in-venue, at the theatre or in holiday workshops, young people at Stagecoach always speak positively about finding ‘their thing’ and ‘their people’. Perhaps now, more than ever, being inspired and immersed in something we love, is at the heart of belonging, recovery and our own personal and collective roadmap to the ever-changing ‘normality’ we all crave.
By Dr Alison Daubney