Back to school: ‘There are lots of feelings in your tummy’

As the school gates re-open, Children’s Parliament Co-director, Cathy McCulloch OBE, offers five questions to help with reflective practice and reminds us of the importance of staff-learner relationships.


For many children, the summer holidays are something to look forward to, a time filled with family and friends and lots of fun activities and free time. For other children, however, the summer holidays can be stressful; from a lack of structure, time spent with adults who have difficulties or anxieties of their own to not having enough to eat. Anxiety can also build at the prospect of the new school term; thinking about a new class, a new teacher or a move to another school, especially secondary school. Most children benefit from the better attention we give to transitions nowadays, but back at school, on day one, there will be children that need every staff member to be attentive and open to the behaviours that tell us, ‘I’m just not coping‘.  

Across Children’s Parliaments’ programmes, we acknowledge that some children struggle with school. One of our responsibilities is to capture and share their insight with educators. Some of the most powerful work children have produced is about going back to school and moving to secondary school.

There are those first day feelings: “I felt scared, shivery, worried”.  These feelings can change quite quickly: “By the end of the first day I felt more confident about myself”.  There are worries about coping with new systems and ways of doing things: “Getting to classes is really hard”; “I take too long to get ready after PE so I get into trouble”“It’s hard to fit in and be the same as everyone”. For some children, peer relationships in the new bigger secondary school environment are shaped by the fear and experience of violence: “There are so many fights”; “They are not quick enough at stopping fights. There needs to be more staff in the corridors”. 

There seems to be a growing awareness of the centrality of health and wellbeing to learning. At Children’s Parliament, we would wrap this in a view of childhood and education that is rooted in children’s human rights and the core ideas of human dignity, empathy, kindness, trust, and love. If there was ever a time when the mantra it’s all about relationships rings true it is in those first few days back at school: “It can be fun, but it depends on the teacher”. 

There is no denying that back to school might have some feeling of anxiety or dread for the educator too. High demands, feelings of stress, a real need to build personal and professional supports to sustain energy across the year. But as you learn to look after yourself, if you can, take some time to think about these questions.  Make it personal, and even better, do this with your colleagues.  

  • How do I pay attention to what might not be going well for a child? 
  • Do I know what is going well for each child, so that we can build on interests and achievements? 
  • What kind of adult do I need to be, so that a child can come to me with a question or a worry? 
  • Do I recognise and address the emotions or worries that change may bring about for the child? 
  • How is my professional practice informed by non-punitive, positive and restorative approaches? 

All the best to every educator out there. What you do every day matters.  


For more information about children’s views of life at school, Children’s Parliament has many helpful resources online that collate children’s voices from across Scotland, here are links to just a few:

Life at school (Blog post)

What kind of Scotland? Children influencing Scotland’s future (Publication)

Children’s Parliament Investigates Learning (Project)


Twitter: @Creative_Voices

#EduGovRev

Now that the Ministerial engagement events have drawn to a close (with the final session in Dunoon yesterday, December 5th), it’s worth thinking about both the formal text of the current Education Governance Review, as well as the messages and tone from the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, and Scottish Government officials at the events.

The Engagement events have shown that the intent of the Review is to encourage real reflection on the principles and practices of the Scottish education system. However, the heavy going language of the Review document does present somewhat of a barrier to those stakeholders for whom changes will be most felt – children and young people. In the series of events – a catch up of which can be found through twitter’s #edgovrev – conversations about practitioner’s experience of Scottish education are indeed full and broad. There seems to be a general agreement that the education system does well in serving a lot of learners, but for those whom barriers exist it is not nearly good enough. If we can cut through the formality of the Review consultation questions, we really can get to the nub of the changes we need to make. At the Edinburgh session I recently attended, the focus needed was identified as being on the child’s experience of school and learning, from 3 to 18.

Excellence and equity matter – but we need to engage children, young people and communities in what these concepts mean to them. So when we think of excellence and equity, we need to ask questions like:

Why do some children struggle at school?
What would an excellent school be like?
What would a school be like if everyone had the same opportunities – and no-one was left behind?

On the Pupil Inclusion Network site there are links to various bits of information about the Education Governance Review – http://pinscotland.org/theme-education-review.html. Yes, there are 17 formal questions asked, but you don’t need to answer them all! And in those questions, there are issues that children, young people, parents and carers need to express their views on.


Colin Morrison
PINS Co-ordinator