A gentle start to the school year is vital to prevent stress and tension

The uniforms have been bought, the traffic in the morning has increased, the pencil cases have been topped up and homework diaries are already filling. Sheffield schools are back in business!

Thursday, 7th September 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:26 pm
The six-week summer holidays are coming to an end.

While we’re busy sharpening pencils and ironing name-tags into clothes, we should take care to ensure the return to school is a healthy one.

For many of the city’s children, going back into education this September has meant going to a new school and it’s not something that adults should take lightly.

Changing our working environment is not an easy thing and often results in weeks of stress and uncertainty, so we should be wary of brushing down school blazers and sending youngsters off with the expectation that everything will be ok.

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Even if the sons and daughters of Sheffield have gone back to the same school, it can be an extremely difficult thing to do. The holiday over the summer is very long. Too long, I would say.

While the rush towards the summer holidays in July can be exciting, the climb down from it in early September has the potential to be very troublesome.

It is, of course, not just children that this affects, but teachers as well.

Going back to work after a two-week holiday can be mentally tricky. After six weeks off, however, it’s a whole new ball game.

I’m not going to argue that teachers are unfortunate to have a six-week holiday, of course not. That would be crass. All people who work in schools appreciate how fortunate they are to have so much time to spend with their families and relax over July and August.

But knowing the six-week holiday is a massive treat does not make it any easier to return. There are serious mental challenges associated with heading back to school after 42 days away from it, both for the kids and adults.

September is a time when many people struggle with mental illness. Nights are drawing in, there is less daylight and Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) is a real issue.

Inadvertently, schools feed into this by ratcheting up the stress. Simply starting school can combine with environmental factors to create a cocktail for illness.

Many people have nerves when heading back to school – whether they’re in Year 8 or are Head of English. Thankfully, most manage to brush it off, no matter how they feel on the first morning back.

By the time the bell has rung for the end of the first day, they’re back into the swing of things. Every year, there are jokes about feeling like the summer holidays never happened.

But there will be some teachers – and many students, where the concoction of holidays ending, returning to work, increased pressure and SAD has a more serious and worrying impact.

These people need looking after in the crucial first days back. Colleagues and friends should look out for them and, if appropriate, tell others how vulnerable they are.

The greatest asset a school has is its staff. It needs to look after each and every person in its employment. Too often it’s presumed that staff suffering from stress will be fine, only for things to catapult out of control and valuable teachers leave the profession.

Many schools manage the September return in an appalling way. Rather than recognising dangers to mental health, they actually increase the threat.

Most schools hold a training day before children return to classrooms. These are often full of new initiatives and ideas that increase stress and change ways the school operates.

Such psychologically stupid management is the last thing teachers need. A preparation day to plan lessons is one thing, but leave major changes for a training day a few weeks into the year.

It’s common sense. It’s about time those in senior leadership teams realised the damage that can be done by racing from 0mph to 100mph overnight.

Let’s have a sensible return to work for Sheffield’s teachers and students, leading to an effective year of teaching and learning throughout the city.