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Transition back to school

Transition back to school

Posted Mon 29th Jun 2020 at 11:00
by Lucy Toghill


With the prospect of returning to a new school year, classroom or teacher, comes a probable increase in tics and anxiety. Read this great blog from TA Education Manager Lucy Toghill about TS and transition.

Firstly, many thanks to all those who attended our zoom webinar for parents on supporting children through school transition. It was lovely to see so many of you! I’ve had lots of emails in response to the advice given and I look forward to working with many of you soon in getting the correct support in place at school for your children.

I‘d like to share with you what was discussed in the webinar for those of you that missed it and point you towards some great resources out there to help you and your children with a smooth transition back to school.

You may know that I have a 14 year old son with TS so I totally understand how tough the last few months have been. Parents have been forced to become teachers, therapists and 24 hour carers whilst really we just want to have that parent relationship with our child - not a teacher pupil relationship.

Transition and Tics

Lots of parents will be thinking about transition, not just from primary to secondary school but to new teachers, classrooms etc.

It’s really important to know that transitional anxiety is very common and perfectly normal with finding new rooms, new friends etc. but for children with tics, they may be worried about feeling different, being picked on or having to answer questions about their tics to both friends and teachers. Sometimes children will be completely un-phased by transition and it will be teachers and parents that will have that anxiety and that’s normal too. We all want our children to be happy and succeed.

The usual preparations teachers make for all pupils may well not be enough for children with additional needs. One thing is for certain that whilst our children have been home, they have been unable to access the SEN provision they were receiving at school, whether through interventions from a full EHCP or small chunks of TA support in the classroom. I want to reassure parents not to worry about any missed learning as schools will be making sure they get their students back to where they should be very soon.

Parents may worry about what transition will look like and how their children will react to the changes of routine again, and how sensory and environmental factors will affect them on the return to school. We know that with an increase in anxiety comes an increase of tics so this may well be a very difficult time for our children.

Parents may also worry about their child experiencing some separation anxiety/attachment issues and possible school refusal. Schools will be well aware of this and prepared with things in place to help in these situations.

Professor Barry Carpenter is Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester and Limerick, and a Fellow of the University of Oxford. He holds the International Chair in Special and Inclusive Education. He has suggested to schools that they have, what he calls a ‘Recovery Curriculum’. This is not a written down process but just something that recognises that schools need to establish a re-entry process as children will be returning to school in very fragmented ways.

Professor Carpenter talks about what children have been through during the Coronavirus and talks specifically about highlighting and recognising 5 losses children have experienced during this time which all bring about bereavement, anxiety and trauma. A loss may not just be about a certain person but it could also be about a loss of a chunk of time that needs making sense of. The 5 losses he specifically talks about are loss of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom.

I want to reassure you all that schools will be taking on a recovery curriculum to some extent and many schools will be planning a curriculum focussed primarily on well-being. Many children will return to school disengaged. School may seem irrelevant after a long period of isolation. Schools need to slowly re-build skills the children learn at school as there has been too much lived experience to just pick up where we left off. They will not be focussing on loss of knowledge at first. However, schools are aware that they can’t lose sight of the curriculum goals that we had before but that children need to be nurtured towards those goals.

Recovery curriculum – What could this look like?

First of all, schools will need to address the issue that many pupils did not have the chance to say goodbye. This closure is a very important process to children. Our year 11’s have not have been able to sit their final exams and attend the balls that they will have prepared for, end of year parties will not have been able to go ahead and many children will not have had the opportunity to say farewell to teachers and buildings that some may have spent as many as 8 years with.

Rebuilding relationships with both peers and teachers will be of high importance. Schools may do this by providing extra tutor times for the older children at the beginning and end of the day to focus on worries and sharing experiences and for younger children nurture programmes will be in place to work on the issues concerning trauma and grief. Many schools use nurture programmes that promote positive mental health and emotional intelligence already.

Schools may choose to capture positive memories during the Coronavirus. This will be a lovely, positive thing for the children to focus on. This may involve bringing in photos and sharing memories of all the lovely things children got up to at home with families whilst they have been away from school.

Some schools may provide children with drop in centres for the older children and use tools such as worry jars and boxes for the younger children in order to give them an outlet for their feelings.

Many schools will very much be focussing on the here and now. They will endeavour to keep things simple and not to overload the children with big plans for the future. They will put their focus in re-skilling children and not assume children will be where they were before. They are used to this after children have the long summer holiday break of 6 weeks as it is usual after such a long time off that children will regress in their learning. Please don’t worry as the teachers will to get them back up to where they should be.

Imitation will play a big role in this process of reintegrating children back into school. Children love familiarity through games and songs and along with this will come a lot of outdoor learning. Going over familiar ground and not challenging the children too much, making sure they are able to achieve and be successful at the things that are familiar to them will be very important. Creativity and art will play a big part here so don’t be surprised if your children come home with creations they have made and stories that they have spent their days singing songs and playing rounders on the school field. This is all a part of building up relationships and resilience and getting them used to the expectations they were used to before.

And lastly, you should expect a transparent curriculum. One where parents can be assured that they know exactly what their children are doing each day and the things they are working towards. Parents have been their children’s educators for over 3 months and have put time and energy into making sure they provide their children with as much learning as they can. It would be no surprise that parents may still want to be involved in this moving forward.
Make sure to check your school’s website as I know there will be a huge range of resources on there to help you through this time.

You can read more about Professor Carpenter’s ideas here


Top tips for preparing children to feel ready and happy to return to school

  • Normalise – tics are common for everyone, even those without TS
  • Make a plan – Use the TA resources ‘What if’ and ‘managing my worries’ – break away from that worry cycle and focus on practical things you can do to resolve it
  • Use perspective – discuss with your children what will be the same/different
  • Share info – ‘About me’ – children’s own voice/TA passport
  • Ask school for photos and video of new places, teachers etc.
  • Contact Tourettes Action to provide teacher and peer training prior to your child going back to school. We need our children to feel empowered/understood with a strong sense of belonging and being part of their school community
  • Prepare to be flexible. Expect small steps, backward steps and daily changes to adapt to the unexpected
  • Start to build up some structure to your child’s day with some independent activities
  • Don’t be afraid to be your child’s advocate. If you think your child is unhappy, talk to the school
  • Remember that an anxious child is not a learning child!


Further support

Check out our huge range of resources on the TA website and remember you can contact us any time. Pass our details to school and we will gladly talk to class teachers, SENCO’s/ heads.

Webinar for teachers

Tourettes Action are holding a webinar for teachers on Tuesday 7th July, talking specifically about the impact of TS in school and how this may affect the children returning to school and ways in which they can best support them. Please pass this onto your childs teachers/schools and ask them to contact to register their place.

Useful links

Young Minds (2020) Coronavirus; the impact on young people with mental health needs.

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Transition back to school

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