Supporting vulnerable young people through Covid: How can we work together to take on the challenge?

20th March 2020

By Loic Menzies (Chief Executive of the Centre for Education and Youth) and Tom Rees (Executive Director of School Leadership at Ambition Institute)

Uncharted territory

It goes without saying that the education and youth sector is in uncharted territory at the moment.

Over the last week, we have spoken with many head teachers and MAT leaders across the country. All of them are working with incredible determination and devotion, rising to the challenge of serving their pupils and communities. Already, we have seen colleagues open food banks in their schools, create detailed contact plans to support children in the weeks ahead and helping families negotiate with housing services and landlords.

A lot of discussion across the system has centred around online learning, with schools hatching plans to ensure that learning carries on at home in the months ahead. A lively debate has also taken place about the role of Ofsted and what alternative arrangements should be put into place since the announcement that SATs and exams will not go ahead this summer.

In the background, school leaders are starting to grapple with a number of difficult and uncomfortable questions. We would like to help them explore some of these less obvious implications, in particular where these disproportionately impact on our most vulnerable pupils.

In this blog we share some examples of the potential challenges, but next week we will convene an online roundtable to bring different services and partners together to explore consequences and solutions in more detail. We hope this will provide a space for specialists and practitioners to share how they are responding and to learn from each other’s approaches.

A different sort of role

Our school system changes as of today. As Eleanor Bernardes argues in Schools Week this “is not about ensuring continuation of education and schooling as we know it”. The repurposing of schools is likely to focus on protecting children and families, and there are questions about how the system can come together to do this, as well as how professionals can share and develop the best solutions.

Our school system changes as of today: We will need to work together so let's share how we are responding Share on X

The government has announced that vulnerable pupils will still be able to attend school, but how will this pan out as more and more of the workforce is unable to come to work? Should settings share staff so that a few schools can stay open against the odds? What will happen to pupils on the edge of the ‘vulnerable’ category? And how can schools work with local services to identify who is and who isn’t on the list?

We also need to understand more about what will go on in the home. For both of us, our time in schools opened our eyes to the many disturbing forms of abuse that too many children are subject to each day. There are increasing concerns that this could worsen as parents spend more time at home due to home-working, unemployment, care responsibilities and self-isolation. Families under crippling strain will be brought into closer proximity and, as Helen Lewis points out in The Atlantic, this will disproportionately affect families living in overcrowded accommodation. This, coupled with the potential for more unpredictable behaviour as adults struggle to deal with bereavement and unemployment, could create fertile ground for domestic abuse.

There are also concerns from schools about their capacity to deal with bereavement at a larger scale – something that, sadly, pupils and teachers alike may face in the coming weeks and months. This could be particularly hard for vulnerable pupils, for whom grandparents can often be important care providers. School staff could also find themselves dealing with grief. In this scenario, we will need organisations and services to support school leaders to deal with this challenge sympathetically to the best of their abilities.

We should also think about the number of our school staff who could find themselves dealing with grief themselves and how we might equip school leaders to deal with this challenge.

Orchestrating collaboration

Schools leaders and teachers are showing remarkable ingenuity and dedication, and sharing experiences and responses could provide a helping hand for those trying to rise to the challenge.

Schools leaders and teachers are showing remarkable ingenuity and dedication, and sharing experiences and responses could provide a helping hand for those trying to rise to the challenge. Share on X

We know that schools cannot do this on their own, and as we move beyond the initial response to the coronavirus, we want to do what we can to help professionals from different services coordinate the response to some of the pandemic’s less immediate or obvious implications (including social services, safeguarding teams and the third sector ).

Lots of people feel they don’t have the answers, and we certainly don’t either, but by coming together next week we can avoid trying to take these challenges on in silos.

We have the potential to act as a bridge between these different stakeholders. It is therefore our responsibility to bring them together. We are therefore going to host a round table to explore some of these issues on Friday the 27th of March.

It risks being a challenging and emotional dialogue, but it is important nonetheless.



Join us for a roundtable discussion

We would like to welcome you to an online roundtable from 11.00-12.30 on the Friday 27th of March via Zoom.  All are welcome.

In order to facilitate a meaningful conversation we will select ten participants from a range of different services. We will also take questions from the audience (pre-submitted through the sign up form and Zoom’s chat function).

Join us for a roundtable to share emerging ideas for how schools and other services can work together to respond to the crisis and protect vulnerable young people Share on X

 When you sign up you will be able to:

  • Submit questions for participants
  • Share any comments or examples
  • Choose whether you would prefer to be a participant or an audience member – and let us know what you would like to contribute to the discussion.

Sign up here!