At the time of writing, it appears that schools will be closed for months rather than weeks, with expectations that coronavirus will peak in mid-May to mid-June. But this is a story which moves at an alarming pace, with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) accelerating.
With the panic-buying at our supermarkets, crystal balls are in short supply, so we, at Ambleglow, shall not attempt to second-guess when education will return to normal.
Here’s a quick overview, however, of how schools, colleges and academies have been preparing themselves to ensure the continuing education of their pupils.
Scaling things back to the bare essentials
As early as two weeks ago schools began to cancel mass gatherings, such as drama and musical productions. It was a matter of playing it safe, and freeing up time for staff to meet and plan for the future.
Comms went into overdrive weeks ago
Communications and marketing departments have done a sterling job of anticipating and answering emails, which were coming in at a blistering rate. At times of national emergency, we all want to be kept in the loop, none more so than parents concerned for their children. Clear, consistent communication has never been more crucial, with newsletters, intranets, websites, and MIS proving invaluable.
Heads of year and other pastoral leaders have informed and reassured pupils through PSHE sessions and form time, dealing with the threat of infection, personal hygiene and how to manage a long-term absence from school.
Many students have expressed anxiety about the pandemic and its implications for mental wellbeing. Teachers have discussed with pupils how to cope with feelings of anxiety and isolation.
Taking care of the most vulnerable
The government has been wise to the danger of sending vulnerable children home. Anyone who is currently monitored by social services will continue to go to school, as will those with more severe special needs, ie. those with an educational health care plan.
Note that it may not be the school that they usually go to. Parents should check online with local authorities.
Schools and institutions now face a strange situation where they are taking on childcare provision for key workers, such as doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, and police officers, whilst overseeing work done online by pupils. At the time of writing, this is being played out in thousands of classrooms across the UK. Schools have also asked if teachers are available to continue to work in shifts over the Easter break, with rotas being organised to spread the load.
Many schools sent pupils home with strict instructions to empty lockers and take all their exercise and textbooks.
Work will now be available online. Many schools already use systems such as Google Classroom, which allows teachers to set and mark homework, as well as communicate with pupils, who can also download resources.
Teachers are keen to circumvent possible excuses, fearing that they may lose contact with some students, or the refrain of ‘my dog ate my homework’ may be replaced with connection complications. Teachers acknowledge that WiFi is a worry for those living in remote areas, and not every child will have access to a screen when whole families are in self-isolation.
We will see how this goes. School leaders are taking each day as it comes and phasing in each stage of education provision. Change brings its own difficulties. New systems need time to bed in. Who knows what unintended consequences will follow?
The internet offers a cornucopia of wonderful websites. Many e-learning companies have stepped up to the plate in the current crisis, in some instances opening up access for free in the coming months.
To name but a few, learners of all ages are familiar with BBC Bitesize, Primary Homework Help, Curriculum Visions, Mathletics, ActiveLearn, TT Rockstars, Sum Dog, Class Dojo, Show My Homework, and Twinkl.
Parents on social media have rallied to share tips and tricks for homeschooling, often with great humour and invention. Parental WhatsApp groups are busier than ever.
Some schools are geared up to offer lessons in real-time online some time in the future. With Google Hangouts, Zoom, BlueJeans Video, and more, the platforms have long been popular.
It will be interesting to see how these early lessons go. We’ll keep you posted with each new trend and development.
We, at Ambleglow, would like to finish by paying tribute to the resilience and resourcefulness of all those in education at this challenging and confusing time. Schools have done a brilliant job of reassuring pupils and parents, reminding us that schools and their staff provide the very foundations of the communities they serve. Their foresight and fortitude have led the way for others to follow.