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Schools never shut: the extraordinary lengths teachers have been going to in supporting children during lockdown

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 11 June 2020

Alice Bradbury.

There has been much discussion in the news about schools ‘re-opening’ in the last few weeks; however, schools have never been ‘closed’ during the COVID-19 crisis, and in fact, teachers have been working incredibly hard to support their communities during the lockdown period.

As well as continuing to teach the children of key workers and vulnerable children, including through school holidays, staff have been engaged in a variety of activities which stretch far beyond their normal roles, as our research in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (HHCP) has shown.

Our mission in HHCP is to improve children’s lives through pedagogy; during this crisis, we have prioritised supporting parents at home (through campaigns such as our ‘Get children thinking’  project) and – the focus here – documenting the experiences of staff in schools and the early years sector. We have spoken to and surveyed leaders across the field of primary and early years education, gathering fascinating testimonies of the experiences of the sector during lockdown, and used these to inform policy through the Education Select Committee’s call for evidence. What stands out from this rich data is the incredible efforts undertaken by schools, and particularly those who serve more deprived communities, to ensure their children’s welfare during lockdown.

Our survey of professionals revealed a huge range of activities which were undertaken by teachers and early yearsstaff while most children were at home, far beyond the provision of online learning or home education activities most talked about in the media (though these, of course, contributed significantly to teachers’ workloads). Teachers have been in regular contact with families, sometimes on a daily basis, to check their wellbeing, and some have done home visits. They have set up social media accounts and distributed videos of staff to help children feel they remain connected. Early years settings have been planning ahead for children who will be making the transition into nursery or school, including online home visits and virtual tours of the new settings.

Schools have also provided a range of services for families who are seen as vulnerable, including food banks, free school meal vouchers, gift vouchers and packed lunches, or have directed children to nearby schools where they can eat a free lunch. Packages of items such as toys, resources, stationery, books and games have been distributed to families. In some cases, weekly food and care packages are being delivered to families who receive free school meals. Nurseries have also delivered food parcels, baby supplies and medicines, and similarly been in regular contact with vulnerable families. For some communities, the school has become the main source of support during an extremely challenging period.

We also found that schools have also provided support with accessing benefits and bereavement services. One-to-one support and virtual parent groups have been provided by some early years settings, to build parents’ confidence in their ability to teach their child. For children with SEND, schools have provided specific plans and programmes of work, and organised online sessions of services such as speech therapy. For some, there is a new sense of partnership between schools/teachers and parents; for example, some staff report that online systems provide a safer space for harder-to-reach parents to make their voices heard.

The stories we have heard tell a tale of enormous effort and hard work, during a crisis which teachers and early years staff were totally unprepared for. Despite these efforts – which have fallen disproportionately on particular staff and particular schools – there remain serious concerns about the impact on children of the lockdown period. Our respondents had serious concerns about the impact of bereavement on children, and about children’s overall mental health and wellbeing. The challenge of dealing with grief and loss at the level of both individual and community has been particularly intense for settings in areas with a significant number of COVID-related deaths, and issues such as overcrowded housing and health disparities in areas of disadvantage exacerbate this challenge. Experiences of loneliness among students and increased levels of stress in parents struggling to support their children’s learning at home were commonly mentioned by staff.

The experiences of teachers and early years staffduring the COVID-19 crisis have obviously been varied, affected by the context of their school and personal circumstances – and other research at IOE continues to explore this. But, in all the discussion of schools reopening, we need to remember that this period of schools being ‘shut’ has been one of intense pressure and stress for many teachers, where they have engaged with communities in entirely new ways and the essential role of the school for many families has been revealed.

Photo by vsuydam via Creative Commons

8 Responses to “Schools never shut: the extraordinary lengths teachers have been going to in supporting children during lockdown”

  • 1
    Tim MERCER wrote on 11 June 2020:

    Finally, someone telling the story of what’s really been happening. You would think from national narrative that we’ve all been sitting on our backsides whilst Joe Wicks and the BBC do our job for us. Notwithstanding the lack of leadership by the DfE, I’ve been particularly disappointed by how the unions have let this become a spat about how and when schools should open. It’s about pragmatic, operational solutions that manage risk.

    As you say, schools never closed, we have continued to operate under severe constraints. Instead of embracing the myriad of bottom up solutions we have already come up with, the DfE and the unions have batted back and forth about numbers of kids in a classroom assuming a on-size-fits-all formular for the entire country.

    Instead of finding creative solutions, they have stuck to one narrow minded view of the world that education can only take place on a single site with kids sitting at desks and argued about how many can fit in.

    I feel as let down by the unions as by the government. Parents have a right after 3 months to expect us to have got alternative arrangements in place and fully communicated at a national level. I expected the unions to consult, establish what best practice is going on and to put forward a set of proposals and then demand the resources to implement them. Instead they consulted some scientists and put forward a set of questions for the government. They waited for an incompetent DfE to come up with some answers instead of putting forward the answers themselves. They demand that the DfE listen to teachers and yet they don’t advance solutions for them to listen to.

  • 2
    Emeritus Professor Rosemary Davis CBE wrote on 11 June 2020:

    Yes, overall, schools have done a great job of providing learning opportunities for children both inside the school and for home learning. It needs to be remembered that education isn’t just about what happens in the school but in the home and neighbourhood/community.
    It also needs to be remembered that, during WW2, schools were closed for 2 years but we managed, even for me ending up a Professor.
    Perhaps it’s time for a rethink on the National Curriculum and have it less age/year bound and think in terms of general targets, rather than as tight levels as now. Less top down and more where children are

  • 3
    Steve wrote on 14 June 2020:

    I’m trying not to let my anger bubble up in the face of your cosy self delusion, but as the father of 4 school age children forced to deal with the reality of the abject and utter failure of the the teaching profession, I’m struggling.

    A handful of internet links thrown over the digital wall a few times a week does not qualify as ‘education’. None of my 4 children are being set work that is collected, marked and assigned feedback. My eldest (year 8) only began receiving regular links 2 weeks ago! After 2 and and half months of utter disregard!!

    As for what is possible, we lived in the US for a few years and still have friends there. Every public school in Virginia had moved online within 2 weeks of lockdown. They taught a full timetable over zoom, interacting with students and setting, collecting and marking work online. Our American friends thought that this was a poor response! If only they knew!

  • 4
    Tasha wrote on 14 June 2020:

    I am not a teacher so i am guessing my reply won’t be published.
    My son (Year 8) has had no contact from anyone at his school, work is provided via work sheets on line and often is not even marked.
    I am a key worker and have worked through this pandemic, 2 weeks ago by husband had to return to the office although he too had worked all the way through. For that reason my son went to school 2 days to help us manage his work whilst we were both out at work.
    The school has combined resources with another in the same trust and only around 20 children out of about 2000 (years 7 – 11) attended. Do you know how many staff were in supervising the children……. 6……yes 6 out of hundreds of personnel.
    So please when you say do you think teachers were sat on their backsides whilst Joe Wicks and the BBC educated the children…. Er yes i do. Not forgetting all the people like me who have not had a day off since Christmas and still have done your job and their own for the past 10 weeks.

  • 5
    Rosanne wrote on 14 June 2020:

    No, schools never shut. Our secondary school has from day 1 of lockdown run a full online school and as a community school reached out to every pupil. Registers are scrutinised and families contacted to support when the pupil is absent. The constant worry is someone ill, have they suffered loss of relative or financially not coping ot maybe shieding a vulnerable member of family? What can we do for large families with small amounts of living space and limited access to internet. And when the government needs time to issue lunch vouchers for those on neex of course makes immediate provision with local food shops to obtain supplies to avoid misery and worry. As SENCO it is critical to maintain strong contact with families and support the support staff who immediately step up to the plate to customize differentiated lessons that will engage and be fully interactive over zoom with science experiments and cookery lessons as well as maths and English. A while extra curricular schedule to relieve the pressures of lockdown and so much more; the list of things school has been doing is endless, the sense of responsibility that each teacher feels plus coping with their own personal circumstances. So what have schools been doing during lockdown- everything humanly possible!

  • 6
    Professor Rosemary Davis CBE wrote on 15 June 2020:

    I read with real regret that some children have not been receiving education during the schools closures. Obviously schools/systems will vary in the quality or quantity of education provided. My own experience as a Governor of a local school where learning materials, albeit not very inspiring, have been provided to all year groups. I am also very aware of a London school where exciting and efficient education is being provided online. For the minority of children without internet access, teachers have been providing very careful alternative learning materials. So, typical of education as a whole – a wide range of quality

  • 7
    Lisa wrote on 18 June 2020:

    My children’s secondary school have been wonderful since the first week. They have provided daily mental health session, a variety of lessons – some with worksheets and others with creative outcomes; such as translate a Spanish recipe and then cook the meal. Every piece of work has been marked and feedback given. They have also still produced the weekly school magazine and parents newsletter. Teachers have also been in contact about missing pieces of work and to check the children are ok. My primary child has had no work marked, but this doesn’t bother us as I feel confident to mark a reception a child’s work. All subjects have been set and links to print worksheets if we need them. They have also provided a selection of offline activities for every subject, every week. The teachers have set these and written the lessons themselves. We feel lucky as we know not everyone has had so much input from their schools.

  • 8
    Emeritus Professor Rosemary Davis CBE wrote on 18 June 2020:

    It is heartwarming to read of such good provision for children. For a variety of reasons- school or home circumstances, experience or dedication of staff or quality of leadership, there will always be differences in how children experience their school education

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