How has Covid changed our traditional primary school events?

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
All change: The traditional end of year celebrations will not be able to take place as normal this year (Image: Adobe Stock)

Celebration assemblies, award-giving, parents’ evenings, sports days and more – following a year of disruption and restriction, how have schools adapted their events calendar? Suzanne O’Connell finds out

It has certainly been a year with a difference and one that most schools will be happy to see the back of. Beginning in September with optimism for a return to normality, the Christmas rise in Covid infections soon gave way to the reality of schools’ partial closures once again. We now face a challenging summer term ahead of us.

The unique circumstances this year, have forced many schools to change how they run their events – with many headteachers planning to keep some of the innovations in the long-term.

Parents’ evenings

For many schools, the transfer from face-to-face to virtual meetings has actually been an improvement. Emma Meadus, headteacher of Coppice Valley Primary School in Harrogate, sums it up: “Virtual meetings work so much better than face-to-face for all concerned. They are more efficient and less disruptive for family life. No more waiting in the school corridor for the teacher to be free. Staff prefer them too as they can schedule them over the course of a week.”

Anthony David, executive headteacher of St Paul’s CE Primary and Monken Hadley CE Primary in north London, has one school which has opted for phone calls and the other for Zoom conferences.

He explained: “This may well be a practice that we roll forward with as it allows parents to continue with their daily activities rather than waiting for the inevitably late teacher. We will also be running ‘new to school’ meetings later in the summer term (June/ July) once we are fully aware of revised social distancing rules.”

Carolyn Jones, co-headteacher at Springhead Primary School in Kingston-upon-Hull, replaced their autumn parents’ evening with brief written reports but found that this was rather time-consuming.

In the spring term they opted for online parents’ evenings using a system which manages the appointment times automatically.

However, she added: “We intend to email pieces of work which represent the children’s best work as parents cannot now see the books which they used to do on a traditional parents’ evening.”

Celebration events

During the partial school closure Roddy Fairclough, headteacher of Newbury Park Primary School in Ilford, explains how they continued with some of their celebration events: “Teachers would continue to celebrate excellent work and present star of the week certificates to pupils online and then publish on the school website. At first this happened through posting on the Google classroom platform, then as we developed live lessons we were able to do this virtually through mini-class assemblies.”

Back at Springhead Primary, they are waiting to see what will be possible in terms of the end of year celebrations, but know that alternatives are there whatever the restrictions.

Ms Jones explained: “My co-head introduced weekly online merit assemblies. These are recorded via a Teams meeting which is then uploaded to Facebook. The advantage is that it is not actually live so that if anything untoward happens we don’t have to post it.”

Again, this has been a change to practice that has actually brought some benefits: “The children who were in school watched it from their classrooms and those at home really enjoyed them as they felt part of the class. This is actually better than the way we used to do it with the whole school in the hall; children need not sit passively while every other class has their merit badge awarded.”

And at Coppice Valley, the importance of celebration has been maintained through a varied use of Teams and this will continue until guidance changes: “When we couldn’t have Christmas events, we did them in school and videoed them.”

Mr David, meanwhile, is hoping to continue with an awards event this summer but this time being held outside when the weather allows: “There will be a reduction of how many adults can attend but, again, this will depend on social distancing rules.” They have also live-streamed events using Facebook “to get as close to the ‘live’ experience without breaking the rules of lockdown”.

Sports day and other events

“We are hoping to run two key stage ‘bubbled’ sports days towards the end of the year,” explained Mr David. “It is undecided if we will be able to invite parents but with reduced pupils comes fewer parents and the outside area is wide enough to accommodate social distancing. We will also be looking to have an end of year show that we will either record or present with a reduced audience.”

Ms Meadus, meanwhile, is speculating about what they might be able to offer: “Sports day, summer fayre and our family picnic are all still unknowns. These will all be dependent on government guidance changing.”

Coppice Valley traditionally hosts an annual art exhibition: “Our art leader has found ways to virtually host it using Padlet to create stunning galleries and virtual wall-displays. We’re using this more and more now to share pupils’ work with parents.”

And at Springhead Primary, they usually hold a hard-boiled egg-rolling competition on the playground which the whole school watches: “This year the classes will go out separately to keep the bubbles intact,” explained Ms Jones. “We may have to video the staff event to share with the children as it is usually their favourite bit.”

Heads in waiting

It seems that primary heads are leaving it as long as possible before making the final decisions about exactly how these end-of-year events will be held. However, the last year of start-up/shut-down and partial in/partial out has given them plenty to build on in terms of what they can do if restrictions are not relaxed at all.

However, there is also a sense of optimism – they have made it this far: “At the moment everything else is on hold but it will be a step up from what we were able to offer last year,” Mr David concluded.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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