Never Alone: Finding Hope in Uncertainty

Never Alone: Finding Hope in Uncertainty

20th April 2021

James, Headteacher at a TLG Education Centre, reflects on how the uncertainty of the pandemic will have impacted young people at risk of exclusion - and why a TLG Education Centre has given many students hope and certainty throughout this ever-changing time.

I don’t know about you, but the past 12 months have looked very different than I thought it would. Throughout this year, I have paused at times to think about the journey we’ve been travelling. One thing I’ve considered recently is something that on the face of it is quite scary: how little we can actually control in our lives.

We often feel like we’re in control, especially if we are fortunate enough to have a healthy bank balance rather than having lots of our choices limited by poverty. However, your circumstances can change so quickly. The things you take for granted can be taken away in an instant and sometimes you’re left powerless to do anything about it. For example, a global pandemic coming out of nowhere with all its associated anxieties, suddenly being told you must stay at home to protect your loved ones and only leave once a day for exercise, having to wear a mask when you’re out shopping and actively avoid walking near other people. Who would have predicted any of that at the start of last year?

All of us will be continuing to face some degree of uncertainty in our own lives, but just think for a moment about young people at risk of exclusion who were struggling to start with, before COVID-19 hit. Lots of these children have special educational needs (often undiagnosed) and for many this makes it harder for them to manage change at the best of times. With even the most basic of daily rhythms becoming radically different, some feel like the ground beneath them has shifted, leading to huge amounts of anxiety. Children affected by COVID-19 in this way may become quieter and more withdrawn, hiding their feelings and shutting down. Others could lash out in verbal or physical anger, not knowing how to express their emotions. In some instances, at school this can lead to being reprimanded which further adds to their anxieties and insecurities.

Some children have traumatic home lives, with lockdown putting more strain on relationships and accelerating the journey towards family breakdown, or may even have led to increased incidences of abuse or neglect. Others on the fringes of being drawn into criminality are even more at risk than before from exploitation, due to not being expected to attend school regularly.

Our TLG Education Centres provide a lifeline to some of these amazing young people: providing predictable structure in the timetable alongside flexibility to meet whatever their needs are that given day. Our Centre staff offer an empathetic, listening ear to those who just need someone to make a safe space for them and hear what’s on their mind. We are constantly working towards using trauma-responsive approaches to support positive behaviour and get closer to the core of the issue, working so closely with parents and carers to equip them to stay safe outside of school. I only wish we could help more young people; unfortunately there are so many vulnerable children across the country who don’t yet have access to our support.

What we offer is ideal for struggling young people, especially during these turbulent times. My team and I have seen this first-hand through some of the success stories from our own Centre in the last year, including: excellent levels of academic progress; effective transitions to long-term school placements; improved levels of emotional literacy; reduced anxiety; qualifications achieved. I’m so thankful that we were able to get alongside these students and provide much-needed structure and support. I hope more children get the same access as more schools and churches partner with TLG across the UK in the coming months and years.

To hear inspiring stories of children whose lives have been transformed through the work of TLG Education Centres, as well as through TLG's other programmes, sign up to receive our latest edition of a Hope and a Future magazine here. To find out more about James’ work at ‘Wellbeing for Educators and Leaders in Learning’, click here.

James Birchenough

James Birchenough

James is the Headteacher at one of TLG's Education Centres. He is married with 2 young children. He began his teaching career as a primary school teacher in Stoke-on-Trent and has been at TLG since 2016!

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