A big thank you to teachers and staff

It has been a desperately sad and testing time around the world. We have all watched the global spread of COVID-19 which has caused an incomprehensible amount of grief and upset. As we continue to battle through the pandemic, we have lots of people to thank for their dedication and to thank for their selflessness during these unprecedented times – many of which are those in the education sector.

As uncertainty grew in March, schools, colleges and universities had to prepare for the inevitable closures. With just a few days’ notice, entire school communities responded to the government’s new guidelines and put together a plan of action which would see the majority close their doors, with a select few remaining open to the children of key workers.

These extraordinary circumstances meant that no one could fully comprehend the changes society would have to embrace. A nationwide lockdown saw non-essential shops, cafes, gyms, pubs, bars and restaurants close and people were only permitted to leave their home for either: shopping for basic necessities, one form of exercise a day, medical need or to provide care and travel to work but only if absolutely necessary.

The way in which the media reported that all schools were closed, and insinuated teaching and non-teaching staff weren’t working, upset the #edutwitter community and quite rightly so. Schools that were open became a hub for pupils and students from other schools which had closed, meaning that there were new faces and names to get to know.

The immediate response by schools and colleges should be widely applauded. The reaction from leadership teams, teachers,
teaching assistants and non-teaching staff was awe inspiring.

From the get-go, staff ensured their pupils and students left with the relevant at home learning materials, whilst others prepared the school environment for the children that were required to come in.

Ian Young, principal of Rainford High, said: “When we realised the present crisis was going to require remote learning, staff responded as a team and with support and guidance shared, they put solid foundations in place for students to be able to study at home quickly, efficiently and realistically.”

Delivering an online and offline curriculum at such short notice will no doubt have brought some issues, but teams pulled together to ensure no student, given their ability or requirements, was overlooked.

Ian added: “We very quickly reassured people that jobs and salaries were something we, fortunately, did not have to worry about but with that came a different challenge and responsibility to our community. We tried to be supportive and clear about the expectations and challenges remote learning will bring for the staff and the students.”

“Staff were supported by the school leadership by taking the perspective that we need to play our role in the crisis but, unless we have an underlying condition, everyone would share the risk and responsibility by operating a two-week rota for staffing that could support students, our community and the staff. I believe that although this broad approach has led to challenges, the vast majority of staff feel it has been fair and supportive.”

It has been a delight to see schools and colleges continuing to share their hardworking days on Twitter. Showcasing and praising the efforts of pupils and students in their care, from their daily workouts, creative art sessions to maths challenges and reading their favourite books. It has shown just how adaptable and inspirational the education community really is.

The lockdown may have meant the teaching baton was handed to parents and guardians but headteachers, teachers and support staff remained by their sides and provided continuous support via email and regular phone calls to home. Parents even confidently took to social media to share their own valiant teaching efforts.

Marie Beale, assistant headteacher at Whitefield Primary School, said: “Our approach has been for the teachers to interact and provide connection, learning and engagement through our learning platform Seesaw which we have had for five or six years. Almost all families have accessed this daily and we have focussed on fun achievable learning, reassuring the children and families and supporting mental health through yoga and mindfulness.

“The leadership team have been in regular contact making welfare calls by phone with over 100 families, some daily, some weekly.”

The sunny weather has no doubt lifted many spirits during these hard times, together with the beautiful chalk rainbows that have been created in playgrounds, on pavements and patios. Outdoor learning, both in and out of school, has been embraced, albeit within the confinements of our homes or during the one form of exercise.

Teaching staff came up with innovative ways to transport their classroom to online platforms. Rudston Primary School’s Jay Clarke filmed daily workouts on YouTube whilst other staff members recorded a bedtime story each night.

Staff were also busy ensuring pupils eligible for free school meals still received the support, even when at home. Many were personally delivering breakfasts and lunches so that no one missed a meal.

Ian Parry, headteacher at Meols Cop High School, said: “Schools have needed to truly reinvent the notion of virtual schooling, while ensuring we still have a provision for children of key workers and our most vulnerable.

“We needed to work out how we continue to feed our free school meal students, a model that has evolved into some accessing a voucher scheme but with many still producing and delivering pre-cooked meals to our young people. We also were challenged with ensuring that our most in need students were supported and their welfare checked on in a whole new way.

Ian added: “It is clear that when communities require help and support, whatever that is and whenever that is, schools are turned to for the answer. We have visited and supported over 40 families, delivered pre-cooked meals for 50 students, delivered 22 food hampers to further support families and staff have kept school open right through Easter including the bank holidays.”

Many schools have also donated generously during this time, to both the NHS, local foodbanks and numerous charities. Personal protection equipment, handmade visors and scrubs bags have been delivered to those working tirelessly on the frontline.

Catherine Twist, headteacher at St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School in St Helens, said: “After the school closures were announced 900 of our students started learning from home, but St Cuthbert’s remained open for the children of some of our region’s incredible key workers. This brought the individuals, working in hospitals and out in our communities to keep our country safe to the forefront of our minds.

“We had approximately 300 eye protectors in our science and technology departments and decided to donate them to healthcare workers at Manchester Royal Infirmary and Whiston Hospital to protect them as they protected us.

“We sent the freshly sanitised eye protectors to the hospitals along with some thank you letters from our students and staff. In recent weeks we have also been involved with a local group, led by the doctor in charge of St Helens’ response to COVID-19, to produce PPE equipment for NHS, pharmacists, care home staff and other frontline workers in our school’s local community.

“Led by Brigid Wood, our design and technology technician, we are helping with the production of PPE using our 3D printers and laser cutters. Much of the material is being provided by the groups via a Go Fund Me account but we are also using materials that the school has left over from incomplete projects. We were pleased to be able to help in a small way and extend the enormous gratitude we feel for the hard work and sacrifice of all of our key workers at this time.”

The defiant ‘business as usual’ attitude from schools and colleges has been brilliant to see. Educate magazine would like to extend the biggest THANK YOU to everyone in the education sector for your dedication and amazing efforts through these unprecedented times. They have not gone unnoticed.

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