The first few months of lockdown saw schools pioneering new approaches to learning. Today marks the 100th day.
Schools were asked to close with no rules set for them to follow in terms of what to provide to the students now confined to their homes. Teachers and leaders forged their own paths and did what they felt was right for their own setting.
Chiswick School, like many others, has remained open for children of Key Workers, those with an EHCP and those who were classified as vulnerable. We are proud to have supported up to 65 of these children on a daily basis throughout this time including some from other educational settings. The school has remained open during each holiday, every day. One aspect of our approach can be seen here in an article written by Lilly Wyatt, a teacher at the school.
At the end of March and throughout April, the school delivered food and resources to students and their families. Before the voucher scheme kicked in, we delivered recipe parcels and made a recipe book with accompanying videos to support our FSM kids make healthy lunches.
We surveyed parents about the educational offer we were providing, which has developed throughout this period. We also asked teachers about the teaching and learning using this information to shape our response.
Stage One of Chiswick School’s response saw a full timetable of work being set by teachers through Show My Homework. We used Hegartymaths which has always been consistently brilliant – more so now. However, many students had forgotten passwords, did not have devices or connection to the internet and engagement was poor. The work set was often not completed or completed very quickly to a poor standard, and families asked for a more structured response. Eilidh Cunningham, one of our amazing leaders, delivered science lessons on Instagram which were full of energy and unpredictability. She’s still there but the chat is off!
Classroom teachers were connecting with Year 12 students via Google Meet to check they were completing work.
Staff were calling families to check they were ok – some we rang every fortnight, others once a week and many got a phone call every day.
The Local Authority provided support and I feel we are lucky to have such a brilliant education team working there.
Stage Two Over Easter Chiswick School redesigned its website and created the Remote Learning Zones. This helped us communicate with our families in a more organised way. Our amazing PTA donated all their funds to help us buy textbooks for English, Science, History and Geography and over the two week Easter holiday we hand delivered over 3000 of these to 760 families.
The postage costs were prohibitive and school staff volunteered to get in their cars and drive around Hounslow and other neighbouring boroughs to deliver these resources. We also employed two gentlemen who ran a local coffee hut that had closed and they made hundreds of trips for us. This allowed us to connect albeit from a distance at the height of lockdown and show that we were still there.
We learnt from other schools. I am lucky to work in the Hounslow borough which is full of brilliant headteachers that include Ed Vainker. I knew that the approach he and Bex Cramer of Reach Academy would be taking would be brilliant. I was right, they were typically generous and shared their approach. With their support we learnt how to create Loom lessons. These allowed teachers to use a powerpoint and record themselves going through each slide with a video of them teaching embedded in the screen – they could now be seen by their classes. Students liked this and we could monitor how many were watching by the number of views on YouTube! We made one of these a week to be watched in conjunction with a new timetable based on students completing work from the text books we had delivered. We checked understanding and engagement with a fortnightly online quiz that we set and monitored centrally.
Year 10 continued with their original timetable and subjects. Teachers carried on setting work for each lesson, only now using our workbooks as well.
We also introduced our weekly pre-recorded assemblies and these allowed us to pass on key messages, encouragement and hopefully motivate students. An early and slightly cringeworthy version is here
The students in Year 11 were provided with transition work to complete in anticipation of their A Levels and we used the Eton College resources which were generously given to schools for free.
We took a leap, deciding to deliver our Year 12 curriculum completely live and teachers taught their usual lessons to students studying Level 3 qualifications. This has enabled all of these students to keep learning.
Stage Three We learnt a lot from listening to feedback – held a PTA meeting via Zoom. We had solved one problem – students that didn’t have the technology could use the textbooks so everyone could access learning. Everyone seemed to enjoy the assemblies and pre recorded lessons but we had lost some structure, and families needed more help to keep their children learning and occupied. We had been proactive and had delivered over 100 laptops to children that didn’t have them and made sure that every home had access to the internet. We gave all of the chrome books we had in the building away to the students.
We returned to the original school timetable for year 7 – 9 and added a Live Tutor time and Live lessons to start every day. I anticipated a handful of students would attend and I was wrong. 180 Year 10 turned up on day one for their English lesson. Tutor groups had between 93-100% attendance and students and teachers were enjoying connecting with each other.
We attended the Ambition Institute summer series webinars and learnt lots about how to deliver effective remote lessons. These helped us ensure that our pre-recorded lessons followed some core principles that would support student learning. We moved to each lesson that was not taught live having a pre recorded lesson that students follow. I’m so proud of our teachers who are now producing lessons like this for the entire timetable. Here’s one of our trainee teachers delivering her science lesson and a geography version here geography lesson
All students have submitted work and received feedback online and we have tracked Hegartymaths usage.
We have been mindful of the Year 6 students who are due to join us in September and are piloting a project that sees us working with a prestigious external provider Oppidan Education to deliver an exciting, unique programme to assist this transition. A mentor meets a group of 15 Year 6 children twice a week virtually and works through activities designed to help them get ready for secondary school. They focus on motivation, resilience and growth mindset: watching these in action is joyful. I cannot wait to meet the charismatic, quiet, loud, fidgety, inquisitive kids I see on the screen.
Year 12 and Year 10 have all visited the school for Academic Consultations and students from both year groups are attending school for taught lessons.
We are also welcoming students from Year 7, 8 and 9 to school for a meeting to touch base with each other and reconnect with the school they miss.
We have also scrapped the planned two week timetable, planned a split lunch and extended the school day for year 11. Intervention is problematic and in moving to a one week timetable we have added heaps of taught time to the curriculum. We are lucky to have a healthy budget – it’s more costly and have taken on extra Teach First to add capacity.
Staff have continued to work on their curriculum and participate in CPD throughout this time. We have learnt a great deal and feel confident that, in the event of another lockdown, we will likely move to delivering a largely fully live taught curriculum delivered remotely. This is the plan. I visited Kew Gardens today and while playing hide and seek with my kids I stumbled into one of our families. I sat and talked with them and the father – a lovely man who volunteers at the school -said the thing we had done well was not put pressure on the parents – take it at your own pace, not insisting the kids were in front of a computer for 5 hours a day. This reminded me that one size will not fit all and we need to keep tailoring our offer to individual families with individual pressures – this is a big ask.
Meanwhile our teachers are also modelling what learning will need to look like with half the school in and half the school out. We wouldn’t have capacity to deliver Live lessons if all of our teachers are teaching groups of 15 so we are planning learning that can be done independently, revisiting our strategy of pre recording lessons to support this.
If yesterdays leaked plans are to be believed we will adapt and it will be easier due to the changes we have made.
Oak National Academy is key to our plans. This free resource is a game changer. We know students will have gaps – we know school teachers are working at full pelt. Oak National will be the tool we use to intervene; to support those students who have missed learning in lockdown. They will support us to plug the gaps.
I have been inspired by many people over the past few months, Greenshaw Learning Trust – who pushed boundaries oozing generosity, helped thousands of students and schools with their free resources. Also AET. I have never met Julian Drinkall, the Chief Executive of Academies Enterprise Trust but I would like to shake his hand. As the head of a stand alone Academy it could have felt very lonely during lockdown. I was welcomed into their daily briefing emails, provided with resources and pushed by their ambition. The selfless leadership he has shown is inspiring and also restored my faith in MATS.
And so, what’s next…