How is your school supporting its most vulnerable pupils?
The holidays are upon us, but what about those pupils who rely on school as their safe place. Where they will be fed and nurtured?
As we dragged ourselves through this seriously hot last week of term, teachers can’t wait for the six-week break.
Most pupils feel the same. However, some are dreading it. Even if they are not voicing their concerns, the vulnerable pupils I have taught in the past let me know in other ways, for example, by avoiding attention, displaying difficulty self-regulating or being withdrawn.
There may also be some pupils who are under the radar and haven’t even been identified yet. These invisible pupils don’t cause a fuss or stick out, but there is more going on than meets the eye.
With teachers off for the summer, it often falls to the school’s leadership team to be responsible for this area, but there is no reason why schools cannot draft in some helpers. Here are five ideas to support pupils this summer.
1. Summer food schemes
Many retailers offer food in their restaurants with heavy discounts over the summer. The best one I have heard of is Asda offering children’s meals for £1, irrespective of adult spend. Also, schools should point parents toward other local food schemes and banks. Some community-minded schools have even started their own food banks!!
2. Emergency number
Purchase a pay-as-you-go school mobile and give students an emergency number to call.
Take it in turns to ‘answer the phoneline’ and ensure a plan is in place for when an emergency comes through. Schools are often the most trusted organisation for families, so they may come to you first. This also stops surprises in the first week of term, enabling staff to be warned about any particular concerns with pupils.
Ensure that if staff are getting sensitive information over the holidays, there is a (safeguarding) structure in place for them to be able to talk about it afterwards if needed.
Consider running a free summer club for your most vulnerable pupils.
Ensure it’s fun and free and has food. This extra time in school may also allow pupils to forge better relationships with adults. Therefore reducing issues in September.
If you ask teachers to volunteer for this, please ensure that you pay them accordingly. Alternatively, consider if your school could host a summer holiday childcare scheme and offer free spaces to particular pupils.
Put this idea on your ‘to discuss’ list for next term if it’s not already in place.
4. Signpost support
As well as a school helpline, many other charities are set up to support pupils over the holidays.
The Samaritans, for example, will always take a call from children and Childline (☎️ 0800 11 11) will deal with calls from older and younger children. It’s also worth children having an extra online safety session before the summer holidays, as many will spend a significant amount of time calling friends, texting and playing games.
5. Pinpoint individuals
If you know that some pupils have specific needs, check in with them.
Perhaps send a quick text message or phone call a few days into the school holiday. It may be that some of these holiday issues will be preventable if pupils have an advocate available. You may wish to give them a weekly call. If you wanted to go a step further, you could start a school holiday ‘buddy’ scheme whereby a specific person, such as a learning mentor can check in regularly before passing on to another staff member.
The summer holiday should be a time of joy for children, but according to Barnados, summer for vulnerable pupils means:
- Being stuck at home and more vulnerable to domestic abuse
- Being left alone without adult supervision
- Fearing exploitation by gangs who use the summer to recruit children
- Sexual exploitation or abuse, with no access to a trusted adult who can help.
These are real issues affecting many pupils in our schools. Although some of these ideas would involve extra work and organising, I’m sure these preventative measures may help reduce family emergencies.
As national resources recduce, it’s increasingly falling on schools to protect our young people. It is a difficult balance to strike, but our young vulnerable people need to remain a priority.