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.
Top 10 themes emerging
1. How can trusts and schools make use of the tools and software they already have to deliver learning remotely? Leaders agreed that the last thing you should do in a crisis is introduce lots of new things without the time to pilot and upskill staff – it is likely to create anxiety and take time to work effectively.
2. How can trusts provide meaningful support to schools in a range of completely different areas and contexts? Leaders were grappling with how to provide common, structured support when schools were facing such dramatically different circumstances.
3. Do we need to get a more nuanced view of the ‘vulnerable’ label? Discussion highlighted that we were currently using a single, broad label to cover a range of different needs and profiles – and that to create the right solutions for learners, we needed to start by unpicking the specific problems we are trying to solve. Many leaders in schools and trusts are also finding lots of vulnerable families that either weren’t vulnerable before, or that we wouldn’t have typically assumed to need extra support.
4. What is the appropriate balance of supporting vulnerable families without increasing their feeling of pressure from another external source? Some leaders were finding that there were families that would find frequent calls home stressful, but others valued the support – while the schools and trusts were also keen to do everything they could from a safeguarding perspective.
5. How can leaders manage an uncertain and fluctuating staff capacity to deliver consistent learning? Family, living arrangements and other circumstances at home mean many teachers don’t have the capacity to teach a full day remotely. Meanwhile many schools only have about 60% staff capacity at any one time due to illness. Finding ways for all staff to ‘contribute equally but differently’ is therefore crucial – rethinking who is expected to do what, and when.
6. What can trusts and schools do to support staff wellbeing during this extraordinary time? Leaders were particularly conscious of challenges to their teams wellbeing because of isolation and risks around workload. They were keen to proactively reach out to vulnerable staff.
7. How can governance work during lockdown? Trusts were starting to explore how they could run scheduled trust board and school governing body meetings virtually. Sean Gardner, EdTech expert and chair of DfE Digital Transformation case study school Eaton Primary, shared how they had moved their governing body meetings to a digital, ‘flipped’ model in our interview.
8. How can schools and trusts prepare to support families through bereavement? Especially given there are unlikely to be immediate opportunities for face-to-face support, really strong policies and processes to support children who have suffered loss are crucial. It’s not something anybody wants to have to think about, but trusts were sensibly really thinking about this. WE schools and trusts who had planned to focus on this over Easter have been introduced to collaborate – with their resources to be shared on the WE Google Classroom.
9. What are the potential implications of Ofqual’s announcement on exam grading? Understandably, trusts were still working out the detail of what the changes to exam arrangements would mean, and there was still a degree of uncertainty – with worries around the schools’ prior attainment weighting, and a lack of information about the vocational qualifications taken by ‘other people’s children’.
10. What does a ‘recovery plan’ for normal school life look like? At a strategic level trusts are beginning to plan to put the building blocks in place for a return to school life. There’s a whole range of things to be considered – from diagnosing gaps and inconsistency in home learning, to bereavement counsellor training for children that has suffered loss, to staffing and curriculum. This is a huge amount of planning, and something trusts are keen to share ideas and wisdom on.
Ideas and solutions shared by the network
1. Get confident enough with practical/safeguarding issues so you can explore the learning approaches that work in your context. If you want to use live, virtual teaching, ensure the processes for it are widely agreed and understood. By doing this, Arbib has had real success – with their sixth form, virtual lessons using Microsoft Teams seen to be working well – with very positive student feedback.
2. Pick some simple things that are important to the culture of your trust, and then explore virtual alternatives. At one school in CMAT they are using virtual, Microsoft Teams enabled assemblies to come together around an uplifting, inspirational message.
3. Respond to the needs of your community and your context. Shaw Education Trust has opened food banks from seven of their school clusters, entirely separate to the government provided food vouchers. This can help in a time of fast changing family circumstances.
4. Be intentional and consistent with your comms. Different schools and trusts have chosen very different methods and frequencies of communicating with their communities – but they’ve all found success by starting with deciding what they want to achieve, what their community needs, and then using the channels and frequencies to best support this (whether it be a central, high-quality weekly bulletin or a daily video message). Parents appreciate the sense of structure and routine.
5. Consider a structured audit of the needs of your vulnerable families. Arbib Education Trust will have spoken to every child in the trust by Easter to understand their needs and circumstances in more depth. This will allow them to develop the appropriate solutions.
6. Virtual recruitment can be a ‘refreshing’ alternative to traditional processes, with positive WE school and trust experiences so far. Richard Spencer from CMAT said “the ideas from the trust virtual meeting [on the 31st March – see the tips here] were fantastic”. CMAT had adapted some for their recent recruitment process (they used Zoom, and set up a student panel with children of key workers) and had a really successful experience.
7. Investigate how to use time available to upskill staff to make remote learning as effective as possible. One trust was looking at the possibility of closing school for two weeks to upskill staff on online learning platforms – arguing that 12 good weeks was better than 14 weeks learning as you went along. This is sensible, echoing Gluu’s advice that you should avoid introducing new EdTech in a rush, during a crisis, or without upskilling staff.
8. Audit your staff to find out their current capacity and confidence managing wellbeing and using virtual teaching technology. Create champions with responsibility for leading the areas they are most confident. Arbib Trust are using this approach to develop staff and build and cascade expertise amongst their team. It is a good way to make the most of talent in your teams, and discover expertise you might not have known about.
9. Find ways to encourage informal check-ins between staff to help avoid isolation and loneliness. Pioneer Trust are running optional, drop-in virtual coffee mornings and book clubs for their team. WE’s James Pope also advised finding ways to really get under the skin of what staff needed, perhaps using surveys – as he put it, wellbeing starts with listening, not telling.
10. A number of Trusts were reviewing their gift policy in light of grades now being assigned by teachers. Anglian Learning have prudently updated their gift policy to try and reflect pressures that may emerge due to the change of exam arrangements. Anglian have kindly agreed to share the new annex to their policy with WE Trust Network call participants in the WE Google Classroom.
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.