Our whole-school approach to lockdown learning

John Taylor

John Taylor is the Executive Principal of Roundthorn and Coppice Primary Academies, part of Focus Trust, a primary only, multi academy trust based in the North of England. #CareDareFairShare

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Website: www.roundthornprimaryacademy.co.uk/home-learning/ Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Covid-19 had struck. We sent the children home from Roundthorn Primary Academy three days before schools closed nationally to all but key workers and vulnerable children. We’d had an outbreak; a number of staff fell ill and I was taking no chances. With little time to plan and just a few photocopied sheets in hand, we sent the children home not knowing what the immediate future might look like or when we’d see them again.

We’re in a very different place now: we’ve adapted and adopted. We had a superb online platform, Purple Mash, and relied on this for a time. Like many online platforms or virtual learning environments (VLEs), content can be tailored to groups and individuals, progress checked and feedback given. Which is all fine if your families all have access to wifi and laptops / tablets… We soon learnt that many didn’t. Priority was being given to older children, and some were trying to access the content on smartphones where there was no wifi. Some families didn’t have smartphones. Engagement with home learning was at around 30-40%.

By June 1st when schools were asked to open more widely we had a new plan. The best plans are often the simplest and it was the deputy headteacher, Kayleigh Byrne, who came up with it: 

“We’ll get all of the class teachers together (via Zoom) and plan a whole school theme so that most activities can be done together by the family, with older children helping younger children. Use the activities with the children in school and print packs to send home to those who are not accessing the online content.”

It has worked. Kayleigh meets the staff each week and they agree on a whole school theme. Each theme has a discussion-based question, building on the Philosophy for Children approach we use in school, hoping to get families talking at home. Following this, staff brainstorm together learning for the children linked to different areas of the curriculum around the theme, thinking about activities for all ages and how families can work together. The team approach means that teachers who specialise in different subjects are able to prepare learning tasks for the whole school and everybody is keen to share their ideas, expertise and make the learning engaging for the children. 

Kayleigh puts all the ideas generated on to an easy to follow format and sends out to each teacher from Nursery to Year 6, the teachers then personalise the home learning with any additional tasks and appropriate English and Maths learning for their year group. Alongside this runs our school YouTube channel. We started the channel much earlier but this is now growing and contributes to the package, with teachers recording themselves modelling tasks linked to the home learning each week. We also have EYFS, Forest School and Wellbeing blogs on our website that are updated regularly. https://roundthorneys.wordpress.com

Content is uploaded to the school website each week and teams of staff come in on a rota to print and package the activity packs. The hyperlinks in the overview document ensure that staff in school can download and print the sheets and those able to access online at home can work on them too. It’s well organised so that teams have unique access to the photocopier once a week and then go and post them out. The assistant head leads this and ensures that staff have all they need in terms of resources and technical support. She has set up workstations in the hall for each staff member to ensure social distancing and reduce the need to share resources.

Staff love delivering the packs. It brings a real connection with the children and the community and they have even been given food and snacks from parents who have fully appreciated their efforts! The same activities and resources are used by teachers leading class bubbles as well as those supporting the children of key workers, bringing together a truly ‘whole school’ learning offer.

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It’s not perfect, but it’s working. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback. I have reflected on whether we could and should have done this from the start of lockdown and conclude that we couldn’t. We had to minimise the number of people in the building and staff were shielding, some were ill. The priority was and still is people’s health and wellbeing. Working this way since June and knowing that it’s helping has had a huge positive impact on the wellbeing and happiness of so many staff. A real team effort!

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