By Mark Dawes, in conversation with Andy Cornick and Jo Cayley (March 2021)
Now that the vast majority of staff and children are back in the school building it seemed useful to capture some thoughts while these are still fresh. What follows is taken from conversations with Andy (secondary) and Jo (primary) about their experiences.
Exciting things about returning to school
It is so important to be able to see the pupils and their expressions. Even when pupils are wearing masks the furrowed brow shows that a pupil is thinking hard, for example. It is so lovely being able to have natural dialogue with pupils (which is so much more stilted over Zoom) and to be able to get immediate feedback.
Not only were the children excited about seeing their friends, but teachers have also enjoyed catching up with colleagues, picking up professional conversations that have had to happen remotely over the past few months, and sharing ideas in a more natural way. The children have missed the familiarity of the classroom and the resources, and the opportunity to collaborate with their classmates.
Things that are different now compared to pre-Covid times
There are obvious structural things, such as having to be part of a bubble, cleaning desks frequently, wearing face-masks in secondary school, having a one-way system, etc. Whole-school events haven’t been able to happen, such as assemblies, the concert, parental events and the school disco. It is obvious that some staff and children are suffering from increased levels of anxiety, but at primary school some pupils have found it socially reassuring to have a smaller bubble of friends to play with.
It is good that there is an appropriate level of flexibility in schools, such as teachers being encouraged to remove their mask when teaching a pupil with a hearing impairment. Pupils have responded superbly to the strange new systems.
Things that were good about online teaching
Work could be set for the class and the teacher could then meet separately with smaller groups of pupils who needed particular help or support. Older siblings could help their younger brothers and sisters, and this led to a greater level of independence.
Videoing lessons was particularly good, because there was time to think deeply about the lesson and to plan it in detail. (This was possible because the same lesson could then be used with multiple classes, whereas live lessons obviously had to be taught live!)
It perhaps doesn’t need saying that everyone (children, parents, teachers, teaching assistants) has improved their IT skills!
Changes we will make to what we do in school as a result of our online teaching experiences
There is now greater confidence about using IT tools (such as Desmos and Jamboard) in class, either with school devices (laptops/iPads) or with pupils’ own phones. These will be used for exploring mathematics, for working on problems and as part of assessment (as well as using Forms).
The amount of paper used will decrease significantly, with much less printing for use in class and for homework. As part of homework pupils will be expected to access videos much more readily.
The focus in school at the moment
The emotional well-being of children is paramount. While this has gone well so far, it is important to remember that the emotional effect of bereavements, of family difficulties and of being away from friends for so long might take a while to become evident.
Refamiliarization with school routines, with expectations, with how to work with others in the class is important. Part of this is reminding pupils that learning is fun! Reusing some of the tasks, sites, and ways of working the pupils became used to during lockdown is also helpful in building confidence.
Interventions and catch-up tutoring has already begun. Jo was very pleased with the primary NCETM guidance (produced by Debbie Morgan) which suggests the things to focus on for the remainder of the year.
It was lovely to see that at both phases there is excitement about being back in school, that teachers are as excited about this as pupils are, and that the emotional well-being of the pupils is being considered as they get used to being back in the building.