During this challenging time, it is more important than ever to be part of a network; to have the space to talk to colleagues, hear what they are doing and share ideas.
Our WE virtual meetings are designed to support you during this challenging time. They are an opportunity to learn with and from colleagues across the country during this fast-moving situation. They are based around schools sharing what they are doing that others might benefit from, and what they’re challenged by and would like others to feedback on.
In our first WE Primary leaders support meeting, 22 WE school leaders joined to explore how schools were coping and operating following closure except for key workers. Below are some key themes and ideas that emerged.
1. Creative ideas to keep staff connected and boost wellbeing
This was one of the main priorities for our primary leaders – they were concerned about the possibility of staff feeling isolated during school closures and potentially expended periods of mostly remote working.
Idea 1: Ainslie Wood Primary School has set up a weekly after-work staff quiz on Zoom for their team to stay in touch informally, have some fun and socialise.
Idea 2: A staff Whatsapp group is being used informally by Barrowford Primary School as a way of staff staying in touch and sharing positive messages.
Idea 3: One school is creating social video calls after work where they can have a drink (gin and tonic Thursdays!) and chat informally during social distancing.
Idea 4: Ainslie Wood have also set up Zoom ‘open lunches’ to replicate the social experience of lunch – staff can drop in if they want to chat and get away from emails on their lunch break.
Idea 5: A number of leaders were setting up 1-to-1 mentoring/coaching virtual meetings so staff could support each others’ wellbeing.
Bonus idea: this doesn’t really fit under staff wellbeing but we thought it was great – at Wensum Junior School they have collaborate with other headteachers in Norfolk to create a Google Sheet for staff with a list of suggested remote CPD resources.
In-school, staff put their names next to one that interested them, do the CPD, then feedback to the group on what they’ve learned. It helps make remote CPD more collaborative.
2. Supporting the most vulnerable students and families
There was lots of concern about supporting provision for the most vulnerable students. Colleagues were concerned that many don’t have devices or an internet connection at home to take part in online learning.
Some schools were still fighting to ensure that food reached children normally receiving free school meals – and were worried that even in the event of a national voucher scheme, the most vulnerable families often don’t shop at supermarkets where vouchers can be spent.
However all schools were going above and beyond to find creative ways to overcome these challenges and taking matters into their own hands.
Seb Chapleau, Director of the Big Education Conversation, shared the work he is doing with WE to keep pressure on the DfE and supermarkets to support a process that gets food to vulnerable families, as simple as possible. Get in touch if you want to find out more about his campaign or how you can help.
3. Providing a high-quality, remote whole education that all pupils can access
This was by far and away the main priority for all primary schools involved. Now they had got over the initial uncertainty and successfully dealt with most immediate, logistical challenges, they were focused on ensuring learning continued.
Challenge: Colleagues shared that providing lots of work can be overwhelming for some students and parents, while other children do an entire week’s work in a day. This can be overcome by differentiating work more, but this has implications for staff workload.
Challenge: Leaders were also focusing on how to ensure they continued to provide a whole education; as well as setting work remotely, how could they continue to develop children’s wider skills and qualities, and offer a broad curriculum?
Idea 7: Stapleford Community Primary School had decided in the coming weeks to focus less on giving lots of worksheets to children, and instead put more focus on challenges to get children outside (safely, during social distancing!), focusing on their wellbeing (encouraging meditation), and character challenges (like a good deed a day).
Idea 8: One school had introduced a ‘daily Zoom story’ – A teacher reading a short story each day for children in younger years. We loved this simple way to bring classes together.
Idea 9: Robin Hood MAT has created a series of learning challenges that offer a cross curricular topic-led approach and made them freely available to other schools. Headteachers on the call had already made use of these, and thanked Steve Taylor (Robin Hood’s Executive Headteacher) for sharing so generously at an early stage with WE schools.
Idea 10: Wensum Junior School are encouraging their children to engage in Thrive and Forest School Activities and have again generously shared their resources with WE schools via Google Classroom.
Whole Education will be providing ongoing, themed virtual meetings for primary, leaders to dig further into this issue on particular – sharing ways schools are delivering a fully rounded remote learning experience.
4. Mythbusting: schools need reassurance that they are trusted to make the right decisions in such unusual circumstances
Schools are having to move fast and be creative to do the right thing for their communities. In some cases they are worried they’ll later be told they face legal/financial consequences for ignoring normal guidelines (e.g spending pupil premium money on food vouchers for vulnerable families, breaking normal school staffing limits, or collecting parental data for the children of ‘key workers’ guidance).
Not all schools should be expected to take matters into their own hands, so clear guidance and support would be much appreciated. However this meeting showed the benefit of schools sharing the advice they have received with each other to help build a clearer picture.
One primary trust shared the work they had done investigating pediatric first aid guidelines, and what was a legal requirement vs merely ‘good practice’ in a situation where schools were sometimes open with only 2 or 3 pupils.
Another perceived challenge was GDPR – with schools having to collect information that they worried they didn’t have GDPR permission for. Schools were reassured that in fact GDPR has a clause excepting work ‘in the overwhelming public interest’ such as in the current crisis.
1/2: Public information: GDPR does not inhibit use of data for coronavirus response. GDPR has a clause excepting work in the overwhelming public interest. No one should constrain work on responding to coronavirus due to data protection laws.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) March 18, 2020
5. Staff and school communities had been inspirational and risen to the challenge
All colleagues were unanimous that staff, students, parents and communities had responded amazingly to some unusual, difficult and unsettling situations.
Positive regular communications had been key and helped make life as normal as possible, and there had been high engagement with all the learning set.
Schools were keen to build on these success stories whenever life went back to ‘normal’.
A huge thank you and well done to all the amazing work schools, teachers and leaders are doing. We are so impressed by the way schools have bounced back.
We hope that our virtual meetings can be a useful space to help you share your experiences with others, pick up useful ideas, and remember you are not alone. Visit our events page to find out about the secondary, primary and trust series.