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.
1. How much should we push children (and parents) to complete and share work? Lots of schools were grappling with what the appropriate level of support and challenge is when setting work, given all the other things families and parents were likely to be dealing with.
2. What can be done to prevent the gap widening during this period? Leaders were concerned about the attainment gap widening for disadvantaged students, but also the social and emotional gap. They were particularly worried about the ‘digital divide’, children with SEND, and children who would now be in difficult home environments 24/7.
3. How can we teach new content remotely, rather than just consolidating existing knowledge? Schools felt comfortable setting revision and consolidation tasks – but were still exploring how best to cover new content and support meaningful new learning, remotely.
4. What approaches can we support students to engage with a range of different kinds of tasks? Lots of schools were seeing really promising, high engagement with work- but were worried about overwhelming students with constant tasks, usually in front of a computer. They were keen to support both academic attainment and wider achievements during this period.
5. How can we provide meaningful feedback to learners remotely? Judging the quality of work students are doing in a way that supports their learning without creating a huge workload for staff is a key theme that our schools are exploring.
6. What can we do to support the small number of students still attending school? Making school engaging and exciting for in many cases just one or two students (often outnumbered by staff in the building) is a big challenge. Schools were particularly mindful about the workload of the staff supporting these learners.
7. How can we keep a fair expectation of staff, managing their workload and wellbeing? Leaders were all very much aware that staff have their own families, worries and issues. Some are anxious about the challenges of working remotely and getting used to that; others felt underused and even bored. Finding ways to manage that, and to check in with staff in personal capacity as well as professionally, was a priority for all. (See some of the ideas our primary schools are using to address this here).
8. How should schools keep in touch with students over the holiday, to prevent a drop off over Easter? If students have no contact with school during the holiday, rebooting after Easter could be really difficult in the current context..
9. …and how to keep momentum going in the medium-term, after Easter? Schools felt that they had benefited from the timing of school closures, with a two week ‘honeymoon period’ (up until Easter). Leaders were now engaged in the challenge of how to keep that going.
10. How can schools plan to effectively get up and running again when they reopen? Lots of schools were exploring how, whenever school opens again, they could quickly diagnose gaps and bring students up to speed. They were investigating whether to alter their curriculum planning to facilitate this.
Ideas and solutions shared by the network
1. Maintain the simple aspects of school life that can help students consistency, like reward points. Leaders from The John of Gaunt School told us they were using existing systems to continue issuing reward points for work. This had been very beneficial – students and parents appreciated the continuity.
2. Create a themed, home learning passport for all learners around key whole education knowledge, skills and qualities. Dave Chadwick from Passmores Academy shared that although the school had initially focused on lots of online learning, up to 20% of their students had no internet access and weren’t engaging with this. The school has therefore moved away from digital and is creating paper booklets for each year group. As well as tasks set by the subject teachers, iit also includes activities under wider whole education categories like wellbeing, kindness and physical activity. WE love this approach to delivering a whole education for your students in your context, and the school’s flexibility in changing course when their initial plans weren’t working.
3. Take a proactive, systematic approach to following up and engaging the students not taking part in remote learning. Jason Scrimshaw from LiFE MAT gave an overview of their approach: staff have been allocated five or six students per day from years 7-11. They will be using time over Easter to ring these homes and engage with each family. This will help them gain a deeper understanding of the barriers they’re facing and put plans in place to overcome then. They will also set a bare minimum of work over Easter so these disengaged students can fully catch up.
4. Put a simple feedback loop in place to find out how home learning is going. Paul McCaffery from Bedford High School told the group about the feedback loop working really well for them. Form tutors are the gatekeepers, checking in with students regularly – are they accessing work? Is it at the right level? Are parents appropriately engaged? Do they need paper based packs? Do they need help with devices? – then feeding back to subject leaders.
5. Consider planning simple tests for when students arrive back in school to quickly diagnose gaps. This could be a way to find out how much learning was retained from this period, discover students that have fallen behind in certain places, and quickly put support in place.
6. Create a staff notice board to share updates. Wilmslow High School are updating a virtual staff noticeboard each evening to keep the spirit of the school community going by sharing updates and positive news.
7. Give staff specific focus areas to help them develop in the longer-term. Wilmslow are using these staff focus areas to encourage longer term planning, asking staff to focus on specific areas such as stretch and challenge rather than individual teachers planning for their individual classes.
Doing things differently
8. Explore how to move to remote teaching models in a way that works for your context. Schools are beginning to investigate moving from remotely setting work to teaching new content. Ely College are filming lessons from confident teachers (rather than jumping straight in to live teaching, partly to balance their concerns around safeguarding). Abbey College are exploring live teaching, but with two comfortable, confident teachers on each live lesson (their approach to managing safeguarding concerns).
9. Focus on learning based around extended project work. Jez Bennet from Shenley Brook End thought that, with normal timetables out the window, this crisis was an opportunity to focus on a whole education. Was it a chance to do genuine, Ron Berger style project work? He suggested school closures could give schools the time to do the things they’ve always wanted to do. His idea was, perhaps using EPQ project qualifications as a structure, ask students to develop an ongoing, major project – whether it be a report on insects in the garden or a novella. Students will be asked by universities what they’ve done with this time – so unleash their ability to follow their passions.
10. School closures are a chance to rethink the structures of teaching. Again, Jez challenged leaders to see closures as an opportunity to challenge the way we’ve always done things. Why do we still think in terms of one class of thirty students and a teacher? In a virtual world, he felt schools could be more effective with alternatives – like a lecture structure, with 150 students listening to content delivery by 1 strong teacher, with two other subject teachers using the online chat function to answer specific questions from students in real time. One or two such lessons a day would allow for lots of learning and content delivery – and the rest of the day would be freed up for student-led, independent learning – possibly around their extended project.
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.