Amidst the confusion there is one certainty

By Vicky Hart - 13 May, 2020
Education

Whilst Sunday’s briefing left an air of confusion around the long-term plan for opening schools, one thing is certain – it will be months before schools re-open in any normal capacity.

With the unions against the re-opening and a large percentage of parents reluctant to send their children back to school, headteachers are tasked with almost impossible planning and decisions.

What will the return look like?

In truth, I don’t think anyone knows. With schools finding out the plan at the same time as everyone else, there has been much surprise at some of the choices of year groups, given that younger years will be harder to socially distance.

Schools are now desperately trying to find out more from the DfE as Phase 2 details the return of Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from the beginning of June.

What does this mean for the remaining year groups?

Again, this is an unknown. Will the remaining years be brought back before the summer term ends or will they simply return in September (at the earliest) having missed half their current year?

What are schools working against?

Schools have battled to ensure that pupils can be taught remotely for the last 7 weeks. I use the term ‘battled’ as this has been a battle for many reasons:

  • Zero time to prepare

Schools were given almost no notice that they were to close. Announced just 2 days before, schools scrambled to try and ensure they sent pupils off with some kind of home learning prepped, but in truth they just didn’t have enough time.

  • Different remote teaching capabilities

With the current funding crisis for schools, there is a massive spectrum regarding the available resources schools have to facilitate remote learning for their pupils. Even across our own customer base, we see massive disparity in which products schools have. Schools without any aspect of electronic communication app or online learning platform (VLE) have struggled to communicate with children, parents and carers alike. Our DB Primary customers have described our platform as ‘vital’ for keeping their school community connected as well as being able to teach their pupils from afar.

  • Failure to engage with technology

No teacher will tell you that technology can replace the value of real face-to-face teaching. For many teachers there may actually be some resistance to using technology to deliver learning. This could be due to their confidence or a strong feeling of resistance.

  • Not every family is technology rich

Some families choose not to have a plethora of devices at home, whilst other simply cannot afford it. Whatever the reason there will be lots of families where there just aren’t enough devices to go round.

What can schools do to ensure minimal learning loss?

We have worked closely with our school community to find out some of the unique ways they have adjusted to teaching their pupils remotely.

There have been some amazing examples of schools using DB Primary to facilitate home learning, stay connected and keep communicating. We have been described as a vital lifeline for hundreds of schools across the UK.

Lots of the feedback we have received will help cement the hard work schools have been doing regardless of the technology they have at their fingertips.

Communication

Probably THE most important aspects of teaching children remotely is the communication aspect. Probably THE most important aspect of teaching children remotely is the communication aspect. Communication with parents, teachers and pupils – the people they spend most of their time with during their usual week. As adults we feel the psychological effects of not being able to see the people we are close to. We are lucky enough to understand why this is necessary, but children will struggle to process this.

Allowing children to openly communicate with their friends and trusted adults will bring untold benefits to health and well-being as well as providing a sense of belonging and community.

Communicating with parents and carers about what work the children can complete is one thing but trying to keep the children connected through other means such as group video calls, phone calls, emails and messages can make the world of difference. Even more important for children who might not have other young children at home or come from less supported backgrounds.

Allowing for collaboration where possible

One major benefit of our learning platform, DB Primary, is that it gives a safe and secure environment for children to share their work, comment and collaborate on pieces of work, engage with others through blogs and forums, as well as the ability to send emails to children and teachers in their school community. Although this is no replacement for doing this in person, this type of collaboration is something children are used to in school and plays a big part in how children grow and learn.

Encouraging caring friendships and respect

Although the timeframes have shifted, there has been a huge emphasis on relationships education, and this will become statutory later this year. With an increased online learning presence, there has never been a better time to start introducing some of these core strands. Allowing pupils to comment and review others work or post replies in forums and blogs encourages pupils to know what is respectful and kind online behavior. DB Primary is fully moderated and has the facility for children to flag anything that they find upsetting, which means that teachers are alerted to anything worrying and can work to ensure that children are educated, and behavior is rectified.

Engaging work which can be completed on and offline

Online learning environments have been a lifesaver for schools teaching their pupils, but the reality is that this isn’t suitable for everyone. Schools still need to ensure they set engaging work that can be completed online or offline.

This work must also take into consideration the capability of the parents. Parents are not qualified teachers and many of them haven’t studied ‘fractions’ since they were in school. We simply cannot expect parents (many of whom are trying to work from home themselves) to have the knowledge and expertise to teach the more difficult subjects effectively.

Setting tasks where children can use their imagination and work independently without the support of an adult is important for both child and parent alike.

Review of children’s work

Where possible offer the chance to review and mark children’s work. Children crave positive feedback from their trusted adults and it gives them the motivation to keep working hard. DB Primary has a built-in rewards feature as well as the opportunity for teachers to comment on work uploaded by the pupil. For schools who don’t have a learning platform, you can still offer the facility to showcase work through videocalls or email.

Make the most of the tools you have available and use them intuitively

No matter what tools you have, make sure you are using them as effectively as possible.

  • Learning platforms

Schools with learning platforms are the lucky ones – it gives them a direct route to facilitate online learning and boost school community in these uncertain times.

Communication apps

Communication apps like SchoolPing allow schools to communicate with parents across the whole school. Messages can be sent to different year groups, classes and special groups set-up by the school. They can send work and learning documents as attachments and there is no limit to the number of messages they can send. Using the forms feature they can also offer controlled 2-way communication with the parents.

  • Websites

Every school has a website. If this is one of the only mechanisms you have with communicating with you school community, then use it wisely. Create home learning tabs and organize home working documents on there for your parents and pupils. Some providers (including us) can facilitate password protected pages, which could then be used to share documents and videos for specific years or groups – even showcasing some of the children’s work.

Summary

Schools have been through an extremely tough time but from what we have seen with our own customers, schools have been resilient and made the most of the resources they have to try and keep some form of learning and communication going. For most schools the hardest part is yet to come. The transition back will be hard work. Pupils from across a range of abilities will return having spent different amounts of time working and learning, widening this gap further. Pupils will not be ready to step up to their next year challenge as they have in previous years. There will be learning loss and the staggered return of schools means that planning for this transitional phase will not only be cumbersome but it will also be a long. Schools must continue to look at resources that help keep communication open, resources for learning available and enhance school community and collaboration.

Let’s not also forget that many teachers, parents and the unions do not want schools to open yet. An opening date is the very start of the next battle.

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