Missing meeting new people? How about the 2m new pupils in the UK about to start primary and secondary school?

new pupils and social distancing

Elaine Moore in the Financial Times, misses “seeing new faces and having the kinds of serendipitous encounters that happen in the real world.” How about the cohort of new pupils this year missing out on making new friends?

Elaine Moore Deputy Head of Lex in the Financial Times, writes about the tech industry. Her recent article ‘Group-chat fatigue? Talk to a complete stranger instead’, comments on tech companies attempting to replicate the experience of meeting new people using artificial intelligence technology.

The challenge of meeting new people, making new friends couldn’t be more relevant than in the education sector. Over 2 million students are starting primary and secondary school in the UK this Autumn. During May and June new pupils ordinarily meet their teachers and fellow students. It’s often an opportunity for parents in the same class to meet staff and each other. To share contact information  and arrange to meet during the summer.  All part of preparing for this important milestone in family life.

Significant because starting school creates lifelong friendships for both pupils and parents. Only yesterday I went walking with a dear friend whom I met at a new reception pupil welcome talk. Fifteen years later we are still comparing notes as our boys navigate the world of work and university. Making such wonderful friendships for both our kids and ourselves was the reason for setting up Classlist in the first place. An inclusive community for each school: where all parents, pupils and staff belong.

Social distancing the new norm

With Covid-19 gone are the traditional meet and greet gatherings for new pupils in 2020. As Educational Industry experts are suggesting that social distancing could continue in schools until there is a vaccine.

Some of the more proactive schools are hosting Zoom events to introduce new pupils to each other. As Elaine Moore in her article points out “Small-scale is best.” For anyone who has been involved in large group video chats recently there are significant limitations. Challenging with friends and family. Certainly little chance of getting to know someone. Or developing any kind of meaningful relationship. 

Elaine Moore highlights how different companies are responding to the problem of social distancing and remote working. In her own case she signed up for Lunchclub and went on a ‘work date’. This is one of the many enterprise platforms aimed at encouraging ‘online face to face conversations’. Using machine learning to match up members or colleagues that are working remotely. Lunchclub, Donut, Coffee Roulette all facilitate online introductions. The magic is how they create a nudge to connect. More importantly, endow the user psychological permission to connect with a stranger, albeit pre-vetted and belonging to a particular community.

Another App called Clubhouse, an invitation-only network that was recently valued at $100m, offers access to audio chat rooms. It differentiates itself from photos or text by offering only audio and so more spontaneity. Watercooler is another, that is reinventing the concept of a physical space for the virtual world.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) for parents is a key driver

Parent’s fear for their child being left out of friendship groups. Especially when they start a new school. So the past two months we have been trialling using video chat to facilitate new family introductions.

In the context of helping pupils make new friends it’s not a nice to have. It is essential for a child’s well being and future prospects. This is backed up by Professor Matthew Jackson, Stanford University. In his recent book ‘The Human Network, How Your Social Position Determines Your Power Beliefs, and Behaviours’.  “It is clear that a child’s success and happiness later in life depend on the start afforded to her by her parents and community….Minor improvements in connectedness can reap large benefits in social learning.” concludes Jackson

The need for children to connect is becoming more urgent. A letter to the Sunday Times Editor on 14 June ‘School shut-out is crushing children’, declares that to delay returning children and adolescents to school is “a national disaster”. Signed by over 100 academics including Professor Ellen Townsend, Nottingham University; Professor Tanya Byron; Professors Tamsin Ford and Tim Dalgleish; the letter highlights the mental harm the lockdown is causing. 

Our hope is that we can help the millions of children starting primary and secondary school in 2020 form these essential and life affirming connections.

New Pupil Classlist Video Chat

Sign up now for our Classlist ‘Budi’ video chat feature. It matches parents to other new parents in their class for get to know each other face to face chats. 

About the author

Susan Burton

Susan Burton

Susan is the CEO and founder of Classlist.