Currently working in a Secondary School in South West London, I am a Deputy Headteacher with over 25 years teaching experience. I have worked in lot’s of different environments, mainly in inner London, and worked through many different challenges, but like all school leaders and school staff around the world, nothing has prepared us for this… or has it?
Before last March our curriculum, school day and movement around the building were pretty traditional. Since then, we have ‘grown’ so much in our thought processes around what education really should be about and how we organise our curriculums and our school day.
One of the most extraordinary ‘growths’ has been our ability to move to remote learning in a relatively stress-free way. Teachers have embraced the online environment; each teacher moving at their own speed, upskilling themselves and their knowledge of delivering online lessons over time. We did not rush our staff into this, and I think that has been a real win for staff morale. Instead, we had our champions, the first teachers delivering ‘live’ lessons last summer then cascading their training to the others. We encouraged staff to deliver live lessons rather than make it compulsory and in this way we have got to the point that all staff feel confident in this new way of delivery.
Each week in the summer term I shared a teacher bulletin with different articles about online curriculum design, assessment tools and advice on online delivery. We already had in place a strong set of Teaching and Learning Principles (based on Rosenshine) and we tried to align this new way of teaching into the structures we were already promoting. One of the leadership team developed an online CPD directory which drew from lots of resources published last year along with some training videos our own staff were beginning to make. We joined in with the DfE EdTech Demonstrator schools programme and though we were matched with a Primary School we learned from them and shared our learning with the staff team.
When we returned in September, I took Subject Leaders, and then the Leadership Team through the ‘Learning from Lockdown Playbook’ and we keep referring to our ‘keep / lose / introduce’ plans now. Low stakes online assessments have definitely been a thing to keep!
Like all schools we embraced the remote environment once again in January. Whilst we invested hugely in setting up plans to deliver the mass testing of students and staff in our school, we were not unhappy that we didn’t have to do this. We may yet have to do this once more, but I think that this is one area of our work that no one will ever understand if they were not involved. The amount of planning was extraordinary and sadly took up most of the second week of the Christmas break. That said, we would, of course, do what we can to keep our students, families and staff safe.
We have just finished looking at the DfE ‘reviewing your remote learning’ provision and, using this alongside a self-evaluation form template for this from The Key, we have seen areas we think we are doing well with and some that make us feel uneasy.
In terms of tracking student engagement, I think we are doing a pretty good job. We have a pastoral tracker which is looked at each day, we have a strong pastoral team and have established home visits to our really hard to reach families. We have been lucky to receive a good complement of devices from the DfE and these have all gone to families that need them. We still have a significant number of families that struggle with internet access and while we are trying to support them with dongles this has been a much wider challenge that we anticipated. It has made us reflect on the demands we were placing on these families before Covid when setting online work.
The aspect that makes us uneasy is how we are tracking progress and how do we know exactly what learning is taking place. It is a hard task to ensure teacher wellbeing and holding them to account for progress during these very challenging times. We have set up a system of low threat supportive lesson visits and we track work submitted by students, but it does make us nervous that we could be doing more, even though we are not sure how – or even why sometimes.
Much focus has been on Curriculum Design and thinking around retrieval has never been more necessary. We are working with all Subject Leads reviewing what is being taught, how we can plan for more delivery of core knowledge later for those students who haven’t accessed it all this time round, and how we can review this with all students over time. We are working with other schools moderating our year 11 and 13 student work to be prepared for delivering robust teacher judgements and wait rather anxiously for the final decisions about the summer.
When I said at the start that we may actually have been prepared for an extraordinary event such as this, what I mean is that we are an amazing profession. School staff work hard and always put students first, this hasn’t changed, in fact we have engaged with families even more during these times. Teachers have done what they always do; thought about their curriculums, refined their teaching in response to the situation and have continued to have high expectations for their learners. Support staff have been amazing – sharing roles, diversifying their activities and going the extra mile to ensure we are all pulling together. Though we remain far apart we have grown as a school community. Families email regularly sharing their appreciation for what we are doing. We have regular ‘shout outs’ in our weekly newsletter and hopefully soon we will return (when fully safe I hope) to share this appreciation of our community in person.
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