Kate Atkins is head of Rosendale Primary School, an outstanding research school in south London, CEO of the Great North Wood Education Trust and a London CLC partner. She talks to Sarah Horrocks, London CLC’s director, about her approach to remote learning, from the five core principles to how it works in practice and the issue of the digital divide.
Watch Kate Atkins on video (15mins):
Not got time for the video? Read a summary:
It all happened so fast and we quickly had to establish something, so one of the things we’re doing at the moment is to review what we’ve done and take stock, says Kate.
We went back to review our core principles for home education and felt very strongly that we shouldn’t be teaching new content or expecting parents to be teaching new content, new knowledge. We felt there were six functions for it
Six key principles
- First and most important, to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in pupils/young people and their families
- To continue to develop children’s thinking and reasoning skills – not necessarily new knowledge but to give them the skills to acquire new knowledge and to think about things, keep their brains working
- To entertain them, because we’d probably have lots of mums and dads working at home, and they’d be very grateful if we could give the kids something they could go and do independently while the parents got on with their work
- To promote positive family relationships – we know this is going to be really difficult – so to give families things they could do together
- To show parents that we try to develop really independent learners at Rosendale. Part of our work around meta cognition is to develop understanding in kids that they’re in charge of their learning, and that they’re more than capable of learning independently. They can go on the blog, read what activities they have to do, do them, upload them on Seesaw: they can take ownership
- Schools are huge community hubs. Kids exist within their class of thirty or so but they also exist in a larger community – it might be early years, KS1, KS2 – so we wanted to find a way of keeping that Rosendale spirit and community.
Those were the principles that we wanted to guide our remote learning for the children and families.
Keeping a dialogue
We were fortunate that we’d been using blogs for a long time and also Seesaw with a couple of year groups. It became apparent within an hour that Seesaw was a very powerful way to keep a dialogue between teacher and pupil.
We felt it was very important for pupils to see their teacher and to keep a daily structure, so we sent out a suggested timetable with the sorts of activities children might be doing and then the class teacher would send out every day what the activities are that slot into the timetable. We wrote to parents and suggested it was really important that they negotiated and agreed the timetable with the kids, who were more likely to engage if they felt they had some kind of control over it and could access it independently.
Every teacher delivered a little video of themselves. Some teachers asked for a wave on Seesaw or asked them to send a picture of their favourite animal on Seesaw. Then they would send out the activities on the blog.
The activities aren’t technology dependent. Eg practice handwriting on paper, do art or science experiments. Seesaw comes in for the kids to communicate back to their teachers. They respond with writing, photos (eg here’s a photo of my writing, here’s a photo of me doing this today), audio notes etc. As a class teacher it’s amazing still to see your kids and have a relationship with them. It also enables to teachers to have a conversation with children, upping the expectations for children (eg improvement in handwriting).
We also have a Rosendale YouTube channel where children can go and listen to their teacher read stories or do language practice.
We felt that you could probably have the outward communication for a couple of weeks but the children would find that really hard to sustain if they weren’t getting any communication from their class teacher.
We’re now sending out questionnaires to parents, pupils and staff, asking which bits they find useful and asking staff how we can support them.
In most classes we’ve got about 90% of children actively engaged on Seesaw, so class teachers can have hundreds of responses from children every day, and we’re mindful that some of our teachers have kids of their own. Our support staff did a crash course so our teaching assistants are also replying to posts.
Over Easter we’ll be seeing if we can set up some school-wide activities – eg a science activity that every child in the school can access, and then have a communal space (eg blog space) where kids can send photographs of the work they’ve done, the crystals they’ve grown or whatever, obviously with very clear guidelines around safeguarding, so then the children can see each other’s work and each other’s responses, and that lessens the amount that the teachers have to respond to. Teachers will want to do the best for their kids and we need to bear in mind their mental health and wellbeing, and set some parameters.
Tackling the digital divide
Digital divide and access to technology for families is a huge issue and I worry that it’s a hidden issue. We’ve made sterling efforts to provide food vouchers for children on free school meals: they’re going to need technology vouchers just as much as they need food vouchers, particularly if schools are going to be closed until the end of this academic year. It’s a massive issue. The activities we’re setting don’t need technology in order to be able to do them but if pupils can’t access that online community they’re going to be isolated and set aside from their peers. I worry that those pupils won’t be able to access the things we’re trying to do in terms of connectivity to support social, emotional and mental health.
It’ll be several things. Maybe some families just have a mobile phone with some data and what they need is a wifi connection but there’ll also be some families where maybe there’s a mobile phone and a laptop but four or five people, so how are we going to allow equal access for all of our kids. We need to be canny. Are there businesses out there that have loads of tablets locked away that they’re not going to be using for six months? If we think, as adults, how important virtual communities are to us, particularly as we’re all starting to meet via Zoom etc, and how important it is for us to know what’s going on, it’s just as important for our young people and families.
I don’t think the onus should be on schools to make sure they’re contacting families that don’t have digital technology: those families are going to miss out on all sorts of things: yes, education but other necessary opportunities as well. So getting that hardware and wifi out to families is going to be a huge challenge but there might be someone out there who can help us do that. Maybe something like a national digital fund. And the sooner the better. We can’t push it to the back and think it’s not as important as other things. It’s just as important.six
More on remote learning
Check out our remote learning web page with links to our Essential Guide to Remote Learning, tools at a glance and key safeguarding points.
Blog post: Home learning: helpful links for parents