As I write this blog, school has been closed to most students for 10 days (12 for Y8s and Y9s). That actually is not that many days but it feels like so many more. And whilst it might now be only 10 school days missed, I suspect there will be lots more days before we are happily back at High Storrs.
In the weeks before the lockdown was announced we were preparing for all sorts of eventualities (including some form of closure) but nothing quite prepared me for the briefing on Wednesday 18th March. It was in that briefing that we learned school would close for the foreseeable future and that summer examinations would not take place. That was the moment when it truly sunk in that life was going to be very different for a while. I think, in truth, many of us in school had imagined that the lockdown would simply extend the Easter holidays and then we would get back to some sort of normal but that is not the case. So, whilst we knew that school closures were possible, we did not really have the chance to fully prepare for what we are now experiencing. In the weeks and days before 18th March we were enforcing hygiene routines, cancelling and postponing gatherings, events and trips, dealing with rumours of infected students/families, dealing with increasing staff absence alongside all other aspects of school life.
Our plans for facilitating home-learning via SMHW were based around some key facts. All staff know how to use it, all students can access it and it enabled us to set lesson by lesson learning; building on lessons each week rather than pulling together work packs that don’t allow for the layering up of learning. By Friday 27th March we had a sense of how our approach to setting home learning was going from parental and student contact. There were definitely positives and thanks from some families who liked the fact that their child’s teacher was still planning and setting work lesson by lesson. There were also some concerns raised about volume of work or the deadlines. And there were inevitably one or two more irate communications criticising our approach and commitment. We have tried to reply and consider every single one and regularly update staff and ask them to tweak and further refine their approach. We also have a number of teachers now growing in confidence with home learning approaches and are uploading short videos and utilising other resources. Some national online resources launched this week and some staff will utilise the best of those resources to set their lessons.
Some questions have also been raised around feedback on students’ work. When we shared guidance with staff about how to carry out remote checks on learning and share feedback, we gave them the freedom to choose an approach that worked best for their subject area and the year group. Some staff use quizzes on SMHW (or other platforms) and note the results. Some ask students to email them work to check, read and, if appropriate, return with brief feedback. Some staff have made it clear to students that they are completing a piece of extended work that will be handed in on their return to school OR assessed by an activity or quiz. We do also expect that students will make contact with their teachers (through SMHW or by email) if they are unsure about an aspect of the lesson and ask for further guidance thus seeking any feedback they need (just as they would by calling on their teacher for help in the classroom). Equally, staff are monitoring which members of the class are logging into SMHW and engaging with the work. Where appropriate they are following up with gentle prompts or by liaising with Heads of Houses if they are concerned that students are really falling behind. This is a really tricky issue for us to address as a school as most checks on learning and subsequent feedback are verbal in a classroom. For example, they plan activities and students respond (e.g. on mini whiteboards) and then the teacher knows what they have understood. Teachers also rove around and read students work helping them to correct and improve it on the spot. Also, staff go through the work in class and students mark and correct it. Consequentially staff do not take in and mark the vast majority of classwork. They read and check key pieces of classwork and homework. We obviously cannot replicate that in a virtual classroom.
Having said all that, if any HSS families have any concerns about the home learning we are setting we do welcome your feedback and questions. Do get in touch with us via our enquiries@ email address.
As I have just written all that about HSS home learning, my own children have come into the room to ask me questions and my husband has shouted to me about ants in the kitchen. These are the challenges we are all facing! Please know that I do understand how it feels to be juggling the demands of your work from one room as your children argue over theirs in another room (or maybe even the same room). Equally, one of my girls is a more reluctant learner and I suspect many of you are also living with one of those. And with that in mind I want to thank you for all you are doing to support their home learning. I know I is not easy and if we can help by making contact with your child to re-focus them on some core learning then again, please do get in touch.
I want to end my ‘lockdown blog’ with some other information. Those of you with older children will know there has been a great deal of activity (over the Easter holidays and last week) sharing information from Ofqual about how summer examinations will be graded and awarded. We also shared links to the Ofqual consultation as we have been extremely worried about the idea that Y10s entered for examinations this summer might not be include in the grading. Hopefully, we will all work together to use the consultation to lobby Ofqual to change their decision. We continue to open the school every day (and were also open over the Easter holiday) to the children of key workers and vulnerable students. Staff come in on a rota to supervise and support them (and play table tennis at breaktime with them). We also have our cleaning and premises staff in school on a rota deep- cleaning the building and attending to any urgent repairs. Support staff in school and at home continue to work on all normal tasks and some new ones such as organising the vouchers for families in receipt of free school meals. Pastoral and Learning Support staff are keeping in touch with children that need extra contact and support and checking in with their families. The wonderful Design and Technology Team (led by Mr Vickers) have been working away to make and distribute PPE for NHS and care workers too. Finally, we are right in the middle of our busiest time of the year for recruitment and designing new ways to interview staff that we cannot actually meet or see in action! Lots going on and lots to do!
In conclusion, I hope this blog has answered some questions or served to update you on Lockdown life for High Storrs School.
Be safe and well.
Claire Tasker 20th April 20