Post-lockdown: Three areas for primary schools to build on

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Sponsored
Image: Adobe Stock

Primary schools have led much innovation during the coronavirus lockdown. Emma Lee-Potter looks at three areas of practice which we can build on as schools begin to re-open to more pupils


1, Parental engagement

Schools engaged with parents more than ever during the lockdown – sending work home and addressing parents’ concerns via email, phone calls, vlogs, learning packs and online platforms.

Staff at Dacre Braithwaite CE Primary School in North Yorkshire know pupils’ families well, but headteacher Jo Dobbs wanted every activity for their 72 pupils to be “absolutely crystal clear” – so parents knew what was expected.

“I don’t see how it would have worked so effectively without the engagement of our parents,” she said. “We tried really hard to make it obvious what the children had to do, so there has been more reliance on things like worksheets and PowerPoints and YouTube clips.”

She was also keen to avoid sending parents countless pages to read, aware that many of them were stressed, working from home, and pressed for time.

Learning activities – everything from class Zoom sessions to literacy and maths activities – were posted on the school website at around 7:30am each day, rather than the night before, to give families time off in the evening.

While some schools phoned parents every week, Ms Dobbs found emails worked better: “It meant they could pick them up as and when they chose to.”

On the few occasions when children did not get work in, teachers rang parents and talked things through. This dual approach will continue to be developed in the coming months.

Elsewhere, schools are mindful that many disadvantaged families do not have access to resources like computers and books. Ben Case, an education advisor from the Tapestry online learning journal, said that, for example, “quite a lot of families don’t have a printer – so sending home work for parents to print out wouldn’t be helpful”.

It is a point that Sabah Malik, deputy head of a nursery and infant school, is aware of: “Many of our families have not had access to devices with which to access learning online. Printing work from the internet has posed an issue and wi-fi connectivity has been a challenge.”

Instead, staff phoned the most vulnerable pupils and families to offer practical support and ideas. “It has made us think more strategically about the longer holidays when there is no support for families who may need it most,” Ms Malik added.

The school is now considering using directed time to prepare materials for summer learning and plans to communicate more with parents via different platforms, including email and telephone.

Ms Malik added: “We noticed that the generational appeal of Instagram supported some of our harder to reach families to connect positively with the school. We have also been using our Instagram page to raise the profile of wellbeing and social and emotional regulation strategies.

“Lots of our families have suffered bereavements due to Covid-19 and this is something we are factoring into our support plans for when children return. One idea is art therapy, which has the potential to work really well in the early years and infants.”

Elsewhere, Helen Frostick, headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in London, believes that close partnership working and good communication will remain crucial going forward.

“Many of us will need the PTA more than ever to help to rebuild our sense of community,” she said. “As we missed our summer fair we are looking to have a virtual auction of promises or an autumn fair next term. We are looking to increase hand-washing facilities from September, maybe put in outdoor sinks, and fundraising will be part of the plan. I think it will be galvanising to have a project to return to.”

Other ways in which schools will maintain parental engagement post-lockdown include weekly emails for parents, sending home photographs of children’s work, sharing knowledge organisers containing facts and information that pupils have learnt, and open days to allow parents to come and look at pupils’ books and other work.

Ms Dobbs added: “It may be that now parents have seen much more of the mechanics of the daily life of school they will want to come in and see the children’s books.”

Stephen Kilgour, Tapestry’s SEND advisor and outreach teacher, said that there is also likely to be more two-way communication, so that teachers get input from parents about what engages children at home and vice-versa.

He added: “At home, children can show consolidation and understanding of concepts learned in class, and they reveal their interests and passions. This is important knowledge for teachers as it may often provide a ‘way in’ for future planning. It’s so helpful for teachers to understand more about the children they are teaching.”

Elsewhere, in a recent article for Headteacher Update, Mr Case said that the rise in the use of video-conferencing could well transform how and even when parents’ evenings run, while the idea of weekly video messages for parents has also proved popular and could be here to stay (Case, 2020).

Ultimately, post-lockdown schools will be more focused than ever on staying connected with individual families – something which benefits the school community as a whole.

2, Staff wellbeing

The wellbeing and mental health of staff became even more of a priority during lockdown, with schools putting specific practices in place.

One way schools did this was via Tapestry Reflections, a tool designed to support staff CPD and wellbeing, where teachers can gather their thoughts and actions, have conversations with each other, and reflect on the positives in their settings.

There is no doubt that as schools emerge from lockdown, staff wellbeing needs will be different and possibly greater than before.

“Staff wellbeing is going to be central to how schools operate,” said Jules Mickelburgh, Tapestry’s content editor. “There are three things to consider: practical wellbeing – which is staying safe, hygiene and social-distancing – mental wellbeing and worrying about the children they care for, and the challenge of teaching and learning in this new way.”

At Dacre Braithwaite, Ms Dobbs is encouraging staff to “be kind to themselves” as they return to school. “This is going to be hard on us all. I’ve told them it’s perfectly okay to take themselves off for a walk around the field or to sit quietly in the wildlife garden.

“I’ve said to the staff: ‘Don’t forget that this isn’t normal. The staff will want to be in the staffroom having a chat and cracking on – but we can’t do that because in many ways we pose a bigger risk to each other than the children do to us. I’ve told them it’s okay to have days when you’re just not coping with it. The staff know that I have their backs.”

At St Mary Magdalen’s, Ms Frostick described looking after the wellbeing of her staff as “psychological first aid”.

She has encouraged staff to keep in touch with each other as much as possible during lockdown, organising a Google Meet coffee morning every Wednesday, weekly online staff meetings, and senior leadership team meetings.

She kept teachers informed about everything, including them in every letter to parents and sending them the school’s risk assessment well ahead of June 1.

A big boost to staff morale came when the teachers made a video of Get Back Up Again from the Trolls 2 film: “It was fun and we had a real laugh. We sent it to all the children via Google Classroom and they loved it.”

Ms Frostick urges headteachers to prioritise their own wellbeing, too: “It’s important for leaders to put on their own oxygen masks first and stay mentally well so they can help everyone else.”


3, Remote education

Staff at Crowcombe and Stogumber Primary Schools in Somerset spent the week before lockdown planning how they were going to deliver remote education for their 94 pupils.

Executive headteacher Julie Norman and key stage 1 teacher Anna Daley (known as Anna App for her IT prowess) trained the children in using Google Classroom, including using Google Hangouts for private chats with friends.

One teacher offered to do a “Wake and Shake” exercise at 9am every morning and PE lead Josh Wedderkopp set the pupils PE challenges by video.

“I wrote our pupils a letter saying this was the first time ever in history that children could show and prove that they can learn independently online and still progress,” said Ms Norman.

Indeed, many teachers have found it useful to record video lessons where they modelled things for children to follow at home, set them specific tasks and read them stories.

Mr Case for one hopes that this kind of practice will continue and that schools might develop a bank of such resources to continue to support homework or to draw upon should remote learning continue in some form after the summer.

Back in Somerset, Ms Norman checked that every pupil had access to a computer and the internet. Eight children did not have a computer so the school gave them laptops. One family lacked internet access, “so we sorted that out”.

The pupils took to remote education with enthusiasm, logging on at 8:30am to say “good morning” to the teachers, sharing news, having lunch together, and choosing daily activities from a menu of options.

Like all primary teachers, Ms Norman and her team discovered a huge amount during lockdown, much of which they will carry forward.

“We learned that 95 per cent of our children are independent learners,” she said. “We do a lot of independent learning and project-based work anyway but we learned that we can loosen the reins even more – and say ‘there’s the task, get going on it’.

“As long as we are very clear and concise about what we want the children to achieve and what the end-goal is, they will get there.”

As well as using technology and allowing more independent study, primary schools look set to incorporate other lockdown approaches into teaching and learning, including flipped classrooms and the greater use of teacher videos.

Tapestry itself played a key role for many schools. The team saw inspiring work and was impressed by teachers’ creativity in helping parents to keep in contact with their schools and engage their children, especially those with additional needs.

Lisa Thompson, headteacher of North Cadbury CE Primary School in Somerset, added: “I am so pleased and feeling slightly smug that we decided to utilise Tapestry across the school this year. It has been an absolute godsend to us and has enabled us to keep in daily contact with our children and families. Thank you to the Tapestry team, who are undoubtedly working hard to keep up with the onslaught of traffic on the site!”

Tapestry found that many teachers have become more confident “in front of a screen” and adept at setting activities that can be done with very few resources at home. Education advisor Jack Dabell, a former primary teacher himself, said that children have grown in self-confidence and become better at time-management, too: “And they are really important life-skills for them to learn at this point in their lives.”

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education writer.

Further information

  • Tapestry is an easy-to-use and secure online learning journal that builds a record of children’s learning, progress, development and experiences through the early years and primary education, supports teacher assessment, observation, wellbeing and CPD and encourages close collaboration between teachers and parents. It is used by more than 17,000 settings in 40 countries. Visit https://tapestry.info
  • To read Tapestry education advisor Ben Case’s recent article for Headteacher Update on parental engagement post-lockdown (May 2020), visit https://bit.ly/3h0LJjs

Headteacher Update Knowledge Bank

  • This article has been published by Headteacher Update with sponsorship from Tapestry. It has been written and produced to a brief agreed in advance with Tapestry.


This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.

Comments
Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
 
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update

Newsletter

Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.