The lockdown legacy: What will change?
The lockdown legacy: What will change?
Headteacher Rachel Tomlinson believes that the coronavirus shutdown will have a lasting, positive, legacy for the way her school is run. Yvonne Gandy explains.
The Wednesday before Easter was no ordinary one for Rachel Tomlinson, headteacher of Barrowford Primary School in Nelson.
She spent the day helping to co-ordinate the distribution of 24 tons of food to the families of free school meal (FSM) pupils and the wider community – good food that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.
The effort was just one part of a new reality for the school – one which primary leaders across the country will recognise. And these leaders would probably agree with Ms Tomlinson that the dramatic changes that have taken place over the past few weeks are likely to leave some kind of lasting legacy for the running of our schools.
“We held a parents’ evening just before what would have been the Easter holidays, substituting the face-to-face meetings with video-conferencing and the phone,” she explained. “I actually think we had more parents than for a normal face-to-face one. The parents really liked it and so did the staff. Once all this is over, we are going to offer parents a range of options for parents’ evenings: face-to-face, video call or phone call.”
Ms Tomlinson believes that the changes she has had to make in recent weeks will outlast the coronavirus lockdown – and will not be limited to parents’ evenings.
“We will also look to be more flexible with staff meetings in the future,” she said. “I’m certainly less worried if a staff member wants to dial into a meeting rather than attend. There’s been a resistance in the past because it is not the norm. Recent events have made it the norm, and I think it will be hard to justify going back to the old ways of doing things.”
At Barrowford, the school day has settled into a new, familiar routine. “At 9.30am every day our teachers have a check-in call with their classes using Microsoft Teams when they go through the learning menu and read out class updates.
“The children mute themselves throughout this part and then use the chat facility to ask questions. Once the meeting is over, they can continue to text chat on the system throughout the day and the teachers can join in when and if appropriate.
“It is a really lovely, important time because it is an opportunity for the children to have that connection, that community that comes from being at school. It’s not quite the same, but it certainly helps.”
After the morning check-in, there is an optional learning programme covering English, maths and science, delivered partly through the Century Tech platform.
A concern for pupil wellbeing underpinned the decision to make the learning menu optional, Ms Tomlinson explained.
“We can’t discount how traumatic this period has been for many children. The last thing we wanted to do was add to that trauma. For some of our families, keeping their child in a routine of learning will work for them, but for some, it won’t help. Some of our children just access the chats at the start and the end of the day and we don’t see them in between, and that is fine as well.”
At 3pm it is check-out time. This is another opportunity for children to have time with their classmates, join in with guided meditation and then enjoy a story.
Ms Tomlinson says that parents are so far really happy with the approach – 90 per cent scored the mix of contact time with teacher and classmates and learning as “just right”.
The shutdown has also made Ms Tomlinson evaluate her leadership approach – and adapt it where necessary: “Communication has become even more important in the past few weeks and I have had to consciously work on the clarity of my communications with colleagues because we are not face-to-face.
“I’ve had to be clear and plan how I communicate and the language that I use so that there is no ambiguity in what I am saying.
“I do like to know what is going on, and because communications are now all online, we are in touch more, and I feel like I have even more of a handle on things.
“I have staff who I tend to speak to more but there are some colleagues that I’ve not had the chance to have a proper conversation with until now. I’ve started doing 20-minute catch-ups with each colleague and it has been well worth it. Staff felt really supported by that and it has helped us all appreciate each other that little bit better.
“I am planning to regularly block in time for these chats in the future. While the shutdown goes on these will be increasingly important. I can see them becoming a permanent fixture when life finally gets back to normal.”
Yvonne Gandy is programme director of the National Professional Qualifications at Best Practice Network, which supports Outstanding Leaders Partnership to deliver the four National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. Visit www.outstandingleaders.org and www.bestpracticenet.co.uk