The return to school, March 2020

With the return to school imminent, how can teachers use and build on their experience of the last 10 weeks of remote and blended learning?

Children and families across the country are looking to Monday 8 March with a sense of anticipation, relief and excitement. Those who have been at home will see their friends and teachers and feel fully part of the school community again, while those children who have been in school will enjoy the much wider social interaction that a full classroom and school brings.

However, while the mass return of children and young people to classrooms in England (some Scottish and Welsh pupils have already returned in a phased re-entry) may have been billed in the media as a ‘big bang’ moment, teachers are all too well aware that the situation is rather more nuanced than it is portrayed. 

For a start, up to 25% of children have been present in primary schools during this lockdown (5% in secondary schools) in contrast to the much lower numbers during previous partial closures, making blended, rather than purely remote, learning a very live issue.

And that blended provision is unlikely to simply stop. Although attendance will be mandatory from 8 March, schools will still be required by law to provide remote education to any pupils who need to continue to learn from home. According to the DfE guidance

“This includes, for example, where such guidance means that a class, group or small number of pupils need to self-isolate or that clinically extremely vulnerable children are to shield… All such pupils not physically unwell should have access to remote education as soon as reasonably practicable, which may be the next school day.”

In addition, schools must send home anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and they must self-isolate immediately and for 10 full days counting from the day after contact with the individual who tested positive. Those children will also require remote education. 

How teachers can build on blended learning

Mark Martin (@Urban_Teacher) suggests that all the time and effort teachers have put into creating resources over the past months can be put to good use, not only in supporting students still at home but also for students’ consolidation, revision and other exam preparation.

The skills teachers have developed and their flexible committed response will also stand them in good stead as we all navigate this time where the end is in sight but it might be ‘two steps forward, one step back’ to get there. 

Conversations with a couple of the CLC’s primary colleagues this week indicated that they would be taking the approach of a three-week plan for this term with a focus  on collaborative learning and cooperative work as they have identified this is an area of work that children would have missed out on most. There would also be a focus on wellbeing, particularly for KS1. 

While many children will be excited about being able to meet with and play with their friends (not to mention learn with them), for some children this will represent a real challenge. Teachers will be alert to the possibility that, in this run up to the easter break, some children will find themselves back home again, perhaps for a significant portion of the remainder of the term, with consequent dashing of hopes and expectations. Getting back into the daily routine may be difficult for some children and being ready to embark on ‘learning recovery’ may not be as straightforward as hoped in all cases. But, in other ways, a small bite at some kind of normality and then the holiday break may be an ideal first step (including for teachers). There will undoubtedly be an even more concerted effort to follow in the summer terms when the scale of challenge may become more apparent.

The students’ experience

Listening to students’ live experience and voice – Mark Martin suggests surveys and other ways to get feedback for secondary students – can help to improve how we can support them. It can also help students to discuss and process their experiences of the last couple of months, including what’s worked, what hasn’t, what’s been challenging and any anxieties around the return to school. 

For younger children, creative ideas for sharing experiences could include a worry box (either virtual on the school website or physical in the building – or both) so that children can leave anonymous as well as named feedback, and it could include drawings as well as written worries.

This ties in to the idea of a ‘recovery curriculum’, based on the five ‘levers’ of relationships, community, transparent curriculum, metacognition and space, as set out by Professor Barry Carpenter.

We’ll be continuing to explore this very live subject in next week’s blog post. In the following week we will have some consideration of diagnostic assessment to establish further individual and collective needs.

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