‘Please don’t use isolation as a punishment anymore’

In this post, we share the findings of an independent survey carried out by B11 Consultant, Zarina Connolly in which students share their experiences and hopes for a post-Covid future in school.

Nuggets of information

As a school improvement adviser and school inspector, I’ve always found that my interviews with pupils prove the most revealing. These are often the times when the real impact of the work of schools is exposed. Pupils often speak more freely to someone not connected with their school and so provide valuable nuggets of information for leaders to shape their practice and policy.

A lot to say

I decided to use this same methodology during lockdown when I devised an online survey. I wanted to use this information to support the schools I work with as they plan for reopening in the near future. I distributed it to a few young people (mainly teenagers) I knew from my tennis club and the children of friends of mine (mainly teenagers) and gently asked them to share it. A few hours later the number completing the survey jumped to 50 and by the next day nearly 100 and counting! The survey requires pupils to respond in free text. It seemed that these young people were keen to share (or ‘vent’) their thoughts and feelings. They had a lot to say.

Positives from lockdown

The survey first asked pupils what they thought were the positives from being in lockdown. The range of reflective, imaginative and inspirational comments was truly staggering. It’s clear that young people have used their time to think deeply about what they value most. They have become fitter and healthier. Many say they have forged better relationships with their families as a result of seeing them more. Interestingly, some say that they feel more relaxed and less pressured, as they sleep more. They are taking up new skills and doing things they wouldn’t normally do, such as baking and gardening. One person wrote that they are happier because they don’t have to interact with people they don’t like at school. Some reflected on the opportunities they previously took for granted: music, shows, sport. They vowed to value these a lot more in the future. A few say they have been proud of their resilience and adaptability to their ‘new norm’.

Greatest challenges

I then asked them what had been the greatest challenges they have endured during this period. I was expecting most responses to cite not seeing their friends, as their main challenge; I was right. However, many also spoke of their mental health worries as a result of isolation. Their anxieties over school work, exams and their future. The daily death toll recorded in the government briefing each day is described by one pupil as ‘truly terrifying’. Living in households where there is constant conflict is causing horrendous strain for some. Having no one to share their worries and strains with and a lack of distraction is proving highly stressful. One pupil said, ‘I feel like I’m watching a film on repeat’. Young people shared their online study experiences. It seems that this method of learning is widely acknowledged as unacceptable but necessary. The main issue is the quantity, lack of proper explanation and decent feedback. GCSE students are particularly concerned that what they are being asked to do is not going to help them in their exams. Those who are resourceful and motivated are making the best of it while others are choosing to bury their heads in the sand. There is a sense of confusion, hopelessness – ‘I’m lost’ says one respondent.


Finally, I asked them to tell me what they would like to be different in their schools when they reopen. It is these responses which are the most fascinating. I urge school leaders to sit up and take note of what these young people are saying. It may prove the most valuable insight into how they should shape the new ‘normal’ when schools reopen. It seems that teenagers are both insightful and practical when it comes to knowing what they want and what they don’t want schools to be doing from now on.

They plead for increased focus on mental health support. They suggest regular opportunities to talk about things in the news, including the pandemic. They want honesty. Some suggest that schools should stagger the school day and start later to accommodate their new sleeping patterns. Small group and one-to-one sessions to catch up with work and revisit misunderstood concepts were common recommendations. Longer lesson times to go over work and practice rather than ‘short bursts’. Young people are also acutely aware of how this pandemic has exposed the inequality among their peer group. They call for more support for those who have struggled at home because they do not have the parental support they need.

Young people are craving social face-to-face interaction time; this is what they’re looking forward to most when schools reopen. This will be one of the greatest challenges for schools.

Above all, young people are keen that teachers are gentle with them. They want teachers to know that they have been traumatised and need TLC. Sanctions should be used wisely and isolation banned; they’ve definitely had enough of that. The vast majority say they do not want schools to go back as they were. They have changed and so should schools.

In summary:

  • There are clearly very many positives among the responses. Perhaps schools could use these as a way to boost morale and confidence. Sharing these experiences may exemplify strategies to deal with adversity and uncertainty in life.
  • Schools are well aware of many of the challenges their students are facing. When schools reopen, this survey shows that students want to talk, ask questions and receive honest responses. A space for this is vital as part of a reopening strategy.
  • Schools should perhaps use this lockdown period to upskill all their staff in the basics of counselling. The process of this might also be helpful for staff dealing with their own anxieties.
  • The planning for reopening should include time and space for students to socialise and catch up. Lessons should build on the positives gained from distance learning and make use of smaller groups and one-to-one sessions.
  • Schools should, as they always do, continue to ensure that those most vulnerable are supported strongly to catch up.
  • While students crave order, stability and routine, they also want reassurance kindness and understanding from everyone. A new behaviour approach may be required for schools which is more rehabilitation than punitive in its essence.


If you would like to discuss any thoughts or issues raised in this blog, please feel free to contact us. We are operating with a smaller team but we are here to support you as always.






Please share this post