How South Holland schools have delivered a valuable lesson in teamwork
“Despite the flexibility that technology has given us, there is no substitute for the classroom,” says Ben Love, assistant head teacher at Spalding High School.
During the pandemic, much has been reported on the challenges of home-learning, particularly from parents’ points of view, but our teaching staff have continued to work hard to ensure that every child gets the education they need.
“Since the start of the pandemic, colleagues have taken on an incredible challenge and rapidly found new ways to educate and support young people and families. Equally, we have seen parents and families adapting quickly to educating their children at home,” Mr Love explained.
“In terms of teaching and learning, we have been innovative and creative in our approach; we have continued to set application-based learning tasks and made full and effective use of a wide range of online resources and applications to enhance the students’ experience and understanding. Furthermore, despite the partial school closures, students have continued to benefit from high quality feedback, which has further supported their progress.
“Our remote education provision has been guided by the educational research in this area with students benefiting from a mixture of ‘live’ lessons (‘synchronous teaching’) and alternatives (‘asynchronous teaching’).
“This combination of learning has allowed colleagues to continue to foster a sense of community in this difficult time whilst simultaneously minimising the fatigue that can result from too much continuous video conferencing.
“We continue to be very proud of our students for completing their schooling in the face of a global pandemic, at an extraordinary difficult moment in history and look forward to welcoming them back very soon. Despite the flexibility that technology has given us, there is no substitute for the classroom.”
At Spalding Grammar School, headmaster Steven Wilkinson said: “We know that our students are missing school, and the social interactions that go with it. We are trying to replicate as normal an experience as possible during lockdown. Students follow their normal timetable during the day, and all lessons are taught live via Microsoft Teams. We also have a series of wellbeing check calls with form tutors, and fortnightly year assemblies.
“For the teachers, that means adapting to teaching to a screen (which is invariably devoid of faces, as students are not keen on using cameras!) – not what any teacher signed up to do. And the lack of being able to see and judge reactions, as they would in a classroom, makes judging progress more of a challenge.
“Teachers have had to develop their skills in tools for online teaching, and the approaches that they use to keep students engaged.
“There is a weekly, voluntary, meeting where staff come together and share ideas and discuss approaches that have been used to tackle particular difficulties. There has been an even stronger sense of collegiality than normal. Teachers are also adapting assessment, marking and feedback, to be able to do that remotely, for it is important that students continue to understand how they are progressing, even in these remote circumstances. And all of this against a backdrop, in many cases, of having to manage their own household. There is a huge amount of effort going in, and I am immensely grateful for it; having surveyed the students and parents I know they are immensely grateful too.”
At Donington’s Thomas Cowley High School, ‘live lessons’, via Microsoft Teams are provided to all students.
Head teacher Ian Dawson explained: “Our engagement levels are very high and those students who have had difficulty with devices or connectivity have been assisted with the loan of a laptop and SIM cards with data. Support staff make daily calls to the students and the pastoral team have made home visits and make regular contact with the students to ensure their mental wellbeing.
“In under five months, we have had Microsoft Teams installed and moved to a fully remote educational service with almost no formal training. This has been a huge burden on staff, many of whom have had to juggle their own childcare arrangements in order to continue to teach during this period of lockdown. What we have achieved as a school is remarkable and all thanks must go to all the staff, teachers and support staff, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that we meet the needs of the students. It has been an extremely steep learning curve for all involved.”
Staff at Crowland’s South View Community Primary School have “risen to the challenge of remote education and supporting families over a difficult year”, explains head teacher Joanne Tomlins.
“From telephoning families daily, to spending their own time recording stories, delivering food parcels and much needed resources such as reading books and work packs (and even Plasticine), the staff have really considered how to work more strategically through this tough year,” she said.
“The entire staff at our school have adapted their roles to suit the needs of our community. Teachers have become online presenters, dabbled at being nurses and counsellors for our families. Teaching assistants have become storytellers, tech support assistants and together formed ‘South View Deliveroo’ to provide the children, parents and community members with the services and resources they need to get them through.Our lunch staff have become librarians for those at home, our site staff have become car park attendants and traffic support for staggered starts, and our office staff have supported parents over the phone and supported staff with cake!
“We really feel the support we have given our community has brought us closer together as a community family.We’ve experienced the same hurdles as conventional families; differences of opinion, low points, high points, sad times and happy, but we’ve all pulled together as children, staff, parents and locals and do what is best, because we care.”