‘We had to be ready to deliver remote learning for everyone’
Eight-year-old Tyler loves playing in the mud and exploring outside on his bike. But during this third lockdown he has discovered a love of maths, too.
“He’s really flourished during these few weeks of remote learning,” says his mum Leanne, a teaching assistant.
“The 15 quickfire questions his teachers get his class to do as a warm-up first thing every morning really fire him up, and then he works pretty independently for the rest of the day.”
Considering Leanne works full-time – as does her husband, James, a lorry driver – it is a testament to the extensive preparations that Tyler’s school, Briar Hill in Northamptonshire, made over the summer of last year.
“We didn’t want any of our pupils to be disadvantaged by the pandemic,” says headteacher Janey Cooksley. “We had to be ready to teach children who had to isolate and any class bubbles who were sent home as a precaution, as well as the whole school, should another lockdown happen.”
Not only did Ms Cooksley have to prepare Briar Hill staff and pupils for these eventualities, but as the Teaching and Learning Lead of the David Ross Education Trust (DRET), of which her school is one of 23 primaries, she had to ensure the programme could be rolled out across the country.
“We needed to make sure that from Scarborough to London all trust pupils get a quality education, regardless of where they are,” she explains.
So while many up and down the country baked banana bread and learned macramé, Janey and her team from Briar Hill and the trust pooled their skills and resources to create a whole academic year’s worth of booklets for years one to six.
The lessons covered all the academic subjects – reading, writing, maths, religious education, history, geography, science and art and design technology.
“By 1 September they were all pre-loaded onto Google Classroom, so everything was ready for those who had online access and for those who didn’t, hard copies could be posted out,” says Ms Cooksley.
So when schools closed for the second time on 4 January to all apart from children of critical workers and vulnerable children, the team could hit the ground running. Remarkably, by 8:50am on 5 January, remote learning was already in session for Tyler and his peers.
“As well as the booklets, we have teacher videos or voice overs which help explain the lessons. Our teachers and teaching assistants have weekly calls with each family to check in and see how everyone is coping,” she says. “The wellbeing of our children and staff comes first, always. It’s our moral duty to check that everyone’s OK.”
Concerned that grassroots sports clubs had also been affected, Ms Cooksley and the trust also set up Saturday morning PE sessions to supplement the twice-weekly live sessions. And they don’t miss out on music either, with 10-minute live classes every day. “Tyler loves them,” says Leanne. “We sometimes do music and PE together at the end of the day. It’s like a reward for all his hard work.”
However comprehensive her remote learning offering is, Janey is under no illusion that it’s a replacement for in-person teaching, but she does see some positives for the children. “It’s really taught them independence and organisational skills, especially for the older students,” she says. “We have one pupil who’s become so confident on Google Classroom that he’s making how-to videos for others.”
And for those who are finding home learning more of a struggle? Ms Cooksley says parents and children need to be kind to themselves. “Let’s not forget, it may feel like it’s gone on forever, but this really is a short-term issue. Schools are experts at supporting those who need extra help when we return.
“Here at Briar Hill, after the last lockdown, we triaged children who needed help adapting in terms of wellbeing, friendship groups and academically. We were soon well on the way to tackling any issues. I’m confident we can do that again when this is over.”