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 Secondary leaders support meeting, it was a chance to explore how schools were coping and operating following closure except for key workers. Below are some key themes that emerged.
1) Leaders are all exploring how to provide high-quality remote learning experiences that all students could access
Having successfully navigated the initial logistical challenges, leaders were wrestling with how to facilitate meaningful remote learning that all students can access.
Challenge: Ensuring an appropriate balance of personalisation without dramatically increasing staff workload. A number of colleagues had found that some students were completing a week’s worth of work in hours. Another leader was having to set three different versions of work to cater for the different levels of technology access.
Idea 1: a number of colleagues at Bosworth Academy had success creating short, simple 30-60 second videos to explain tasks and key concepts and sharing them with students. They had dramatically reduced the number of students emailing to ask for clarification.
2) All were focused on how to avoid increasing the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and more affluent peers during this period.
Challenge: There was lots of concern about supporting provision for the most vulnerable students. Many of them don’t have devices at home, and many don’t have an internet connection. Some schools were still fighting to ensure that food reached children normally receiving free school meals.
Idea 2: Leaders at Walsall Academy had done lots of work building relationships with local and community partners which was paying off – they had been able to build on an existing partnership with the Co-op to provide food vouchers for vulnerable families and were confident this would help them access additional support for other families that were struggling.
Idea 3: Bosworth were also providing dongles for students without an internet connection at home. A number had found ways to purchase or lend devices to students without access.
Idea 4: Admin staff at one school were delivering paper copies of work to students without internet access. Returned work was quarantined for 48 hours before being opened.
3) Maintaining the ethos, vision and values of a school – in a virtual setting.
Most colleagues were confident that tasks could be set for students, in a similar way to homework. More challenging was how to maintain the wider social and community aspects of school life in some form.
Challenge: Staff wellbeing was one aspect of this; another was maintaining the wider feeling of the school community.
Idea 5: Lots of schools were exploring virtual, social meets for staff during remote working. Team and individual check ins were being widely used informally. One school was doing virtual staff fancy dress video calls to keep a sense of fun!
Idea 6: Sawtry Village Academy was exploring how to have a ‘virtual assembly’, sending mini videoclips by email with the inspirational messages that they would normally share in the assembly
Idea 7: Ansford Academy was sending a daily video messages from the Headteacher and a daily school newspaper to the whole community, which had been positively received.
Idea 8: Lots of schools were exploring how tutors could check in with their tutees virtually, maintaining pastoral support.
4) Longer-term and strategic challenges for September
With the expectation that schools will stay closed until the summer, leaders were shifting their focus from the short-term disruption to think about challenges for September like staff recruitment, transition, resources and curriculum.
Challenge: Recruitment, with schools closed over the period staff would give in their notice for the summer and replacements found.
Idea 9: Crispin School had just hosted a virtual interview process on Zoom with five candidates, including a formal interview, more infomal Q&A chat, and a virtual lesson. It had been really succesful, with a candidate appointed. The school was happy to share their resources and process with colleagues.
Challenge: Transition, and September’s curriculum – with students having potentially missed learning or at different places following a long period of social distancing.
Idea 10: Shenley Brook End is exploring initially carrying on in September with the same curriculum, classes and form groups as when school closed, to give continuity and consistency for staff and students and make planning more straightforward.
Challenge: Resources for September with ongoing expected disruption.
Idea 11: One school had already ordered all the resources and furniture they needed for the next academic year and were storing it in lots of the empty, student-free space!
Challenge: Providing ongoing staff CPD
Idea 12: Sawston Village College were one of the schools sending CPD resources around to staff virtually. They were also planning to investigate what support could continue to be provided remotely. The benefits of being part of a national network of like-minded peers like WE were agreed to be key here.
Whole Education will be providing ongoing, themed virtual meetings for primary, secondary and trust leaders on some of the key challenges you are facing – including the ones described here.
5) Staff and school communities had been inspirational and risen to the challenge
All colleagues were unanimous that staff, students and parents had responded amazingly to some an unusual, difficult and unsettling situation. 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.