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.
This week we had a spotlight input from Steve Taylor, Executive Headteacher at Robin Hood MAT. Find out what we learned from the meeting.
Top 10 questions/challenges/themes
1.How can we support disadvantaged children and families? All schools were worried about the attainment gap for disadvantaged children getting wider during school closures. In particular there were concerns about technology access (no device at home, or one shared between multiple users, no wifi) and access to food (supermarket vouchers potentially not redeemable at the places many disadvantaged families shop).
2. Are there ways to keep remote learning active and engaging, to limit the need for children to be using devices all day? This responds to concerns about children with limited access to devices, but is also to avoid them spending all day, every day, in front of a screen.
3. What approaches to virtual feedback can we use to move learning forward while protecting staff wellbeing and workload? Using feedback effectively and in a meaningful way to make a difference without creating a huge additional workload for staff during this time was a key shared challenge.
4. How do we make what we are asking our staff to do in the long term sustainable, so children arrive back at school at their most engaged? With concerns around fatigue, workload and the length of possible closures, schools were concerned about setting up systems that are sustainable
5. How can we sensitively support children who are not engaging with remote learning? Schools had varying estimates for the number of vulnerable families that seem to be not engaging with work – and a variety of reasons, including families without English speakers and offline families – and approaches to supporting them, but all had this issue as a priority. Schools are mindful that for many families, there will be a whole range of stresses and pressures during this time (including their own health and jobs) and so schools should not be adding to this by creating a new set of expectations.
6. What does communicating effectively with the whole school community look like during school closures? There was lots of discussion around the need to keep the whole school community in the loop. There was particular focus on families of EAL children that don’t speak English – and how that group can be helped to support their children’s learning too.
7. WE saw so many inspiring examples of values-led leadership in schools, and a shared commitment to do right by school communities – with most schools staying open over the Easter holiday and bank holidays because it was “what their children and families needed” and many going above and beyond to feed families.
Schools’ responses to the crisis have been totally inspiring, day in and day out.
Ideas and solutions shared by the network
1. Create a simple, virtual ‘school day’ routine, giving a sense of normalcy to home learning. Rachel Tomlinson, Headteacher of Barrowford, shared the structure they had created for their virtual days – a 9:30am class teacher check-in, and a 3pm story time. Rachel will be sharing more about Barrowford’s approach to a virtual school in next week’s primary virtual meeting.
2. Run a ‘parental triage service,’ offered to help parents support their children’s learning. Steve Taylor told us how Robin Hood MAT are using this in a similar way to a doctors surgery – parents book a 10 minute ‘appointment’ (video or phone call) with a member of staff (who has volunteered to take part) for help with a really practical part of their child’s project, so they can then better support effective remote learning.
3. Reaching out to families not engaging with online learning with welfare calls. Scheduling welfare calls (and framing them in this way, rather than as accountability) to support children and families not engaging with learning to better understand any challenges they may be facing during school closures.
4. Encourage children and families to send photos of their home learning and its outcomes. WE really like Carmella Reece’s idea of using a weekly newsletter with photos of challenges and home learning to maintain the sense of school community and engagement.
5. Virtual parents evenings. Barrowford had kept their scheduled parents evening, but moved it to a virtual series of calls. This had been extremely positively received.
6. Delivering food parcels: Sandringham and other NNLP schools are employing their caterers to create food parcels, which are then packaged and delivered by school staff, as they know many parents don’t have access to the supermarkets on the government voucher scheme.
7. Proactively finding ways to reach EAL families. Wensum Junior School has a community with a wide range of additional languages. Headteacher Victoria McConnell told us how all school documents are sent to a translation service (for a modest annual fee) so parents can receive copies in their own language, and they have also added a simple translate button to all web pages.
8. Staff ownership of key challenges: Wensum have also tasked staff with ‘owning’ certain challenges (for example, why aren’t EAL families engaging more) so they can dig deep into specific issues and draw on their expertise to come up with ideas for solutions.
9. Planning ahead for ways to support school communities. One school has done the sadly-necessary-to-think-about work of preparing for the worst and focusing on how they support children with bereavement – this will be a particular focus for them over Easter.
Register your interest in the series to share your ideas with other trust leaders across the country and find out how they are tackling shared challenges.