Returning to School

I will be editing and adding to this article because things are changing quickly and new ideas are suggested daily.

It seems like a long time but its only been 14 days of no ‘live’ school! Yet in that time it seems the world has completely changed. Talk of returning is out there if not a little confused, as the many commentators express an opinion which are many and various. Different ideas are expressed leading to the rumour mill, famous in the education environment, producing many ideas and scenarios.

Having said this you will have no predictions here, just thoughts and ideas of how to face this massive shift back to a ‘new normality.’ A normality that may have to be more agile as the virus watchers suggest that there may be more enforced closures over time to come. If the infections rates hit a second or third peak in the months to come, it seems inevitable that ‘Agile is the new normal.’ There is much talk of the VUCA world, a military term for facing challenging circumstances that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Whats going on around the world?

Just scanning the news there has been quite a reaction to various countries decisions to send Primary, or Kindergarten, schools back. I share various reported reactions to allow consideration of the different responses from around the globe and the practicality of what they have done.

04/05/2020 The Guardian newspaper is asking for teachers and parents to offer their opinion of the return to school on the 1st June. Respond here.

These leave me with questions that might be worth you considering. Certainly in my coaching work these are the scenarios we are discussing with many schools at the moment.

I can across this video from Sir Ken Robinson and thought it a good pause and great thought provoking message.

Sir Ken Robinson: The Call to Unite

Phased or all in?

The government department tweeted over the weekend that no plans were being considered for returning schools after the Sunday Times article appeared. Various dates have been suggested by press and within the edusphere. My puzzlement is that if ‘immediate’ return is likely then why have the BBC and The Oak National Academy invested so much time and effort in recording and preparing online resources that will only be needed for a short period, I would suggest that we are preparing for something slightly more protracted, or at least resources that may be needed over a longer period of time.

Questions that follow:

These are not intended as criticisms but as questions you may want to respond to and resolve yourselves. The questions have to be read in the context of schools returning only after the national COVID19 data meets the 5 criteria laid out by ministers that the evidence is that there is a significant reduction in cases of the virus.

  • Do specific year groups return together and how do we do it in a way to support social distancing? One suggestion that was featured in the major article is that Year 10 and Year 12 might return first, alongside Primary schools, to allow them to prepare for examinations. Is this workable? Associated to this, there is a suggestion that the external examination period for 2021 might be moved back into July to allow longer time to prepare for the exams after this interruption especially if a second spike in virus contamination numbers hits us later in 2020.
  • How will schools cope with continued self-isolation of teachers and school employees? How are we responding with the use of agency and supply staff to support the return to school? (Refer to the Gates Notes article details below in Further Reading)
  • Is it appropriate to halve classes and spread them around the school building to enforce a degree of social distancing? Is this workable? How practical will it be when larger numbers of learners come back to school?
  • Would it be possible to bring back half the year groups in one week and half in the next and alternate 50% populations so that social distancing can be maintained.
  • Are these the right year groups to concentrate on first? Older learners may be more independent individuals so would it be more appropriate to bring back KS3 learners first and encourage the older learners to engage through online and distance learning resources? How much control will school leaders have of this decision, will they be able to respond within their own contexts.
  • How will we communicate the return programme to parents and stakeholders including transport companies, food and sundry suppliers and the many others who provide for services to our schools?
  • Should all learners come back together? Is this workable if we don’t have all the staff in? How could we make this work?
  • Should we develop plans with contingency arrangements? Plan for all return or staggered return with principles in place and logistics of either scenario.

Ideas about the change

In my conversations with many school leaders these items have come out in the considerations. I include this lovely Mind-map shared with me by a colleague (I would like to credit Amanda Howes for drawing and sharing) It’s an example of how leaders are thinking about the issues related to the return implications.

A Primary MAT leadership team response to returning to school.
  • How will schools deal with the healthy discipline of hand washing?
  • Do schools have the resources to ensure that surfaces are disinfected regularly?
  • Can you alter the cleaner contracts to make it possible for all day cleaning?
  • Have we a plan for dealing with the likely increased bereavement experienced by learners within their families and social groups. We have already heard of schools with learners having experiencing multiple deaths in their families.
  • Schools are good at managing bereavement within the community but this is a whole new experience and should not be under-estimated in terms of impact on the learners.

Allowing time to acclimatise

  • Could staff be given time, before the learners return , to be briefed on impact and the schools short and medium term vision for responding to the impact of this period and the likely months ahead.
  • Could there be time built into the return to acclimatise to this new world. Rather than just heading straight back into lessons plan for time to input to re-establish school social norms (I was avoiding the term ‘rules’ you might note!)
  • Could there be acts of worship or assemblies that focus year groups on the return and some likely changes that they will be dealing with over the next few months. Reassuring and setting some confidence about the future. How will this work when the gathering of large populations will still not be advised?
  • Could there be time to extend break times to allow young people to re-engage with friends and colleagues. They are probably more used to social media connection and means to talk but don’t assume this will have happened across the board.
  • Could there be time for some ‘show and tell’ to respect the learning that has gone on at home, unseen. Don’t ignore what learners have done beyond the set online resources, there may be some nuggets of gold that could be missed!

Learners experience

  • For the new starters in September, many will have experienced induction days over the next term. How can we work to get these learners engaged and involved in the type of sessions that will get them involved in their new communities. This works for primary starters, Yr6 transition and those entering sixth forms. The latter will have been hit by the loss of examinations too and feeling vulnerable. Can we do things that will support and engage them in ways we haven’t thought to in the past: project learning, pre-A level/Technical Award programmes to build confidence and learning for September start.
  • Will there be a need for the traditional Summer examination periods? It may well time to consider other forms of summative assessment practice that are slightly less time consuming that do not simply reinforce what has been missed.
  • Is there a benefit in some form of sports day experience, for example, that will develop the community again and establish order through a different structure other than timetables and social structures?

Integrating some of the new practices

There is a real opportunity to grasp changes that have been put in place in pretty short order for the good of the learning experience. Lesson resources and plans put online quickly, access to proprietary software and online resources have proved their worth and should not be simply laid aside when the ‘proper schooling’ starts again.

Many are beginning to question if this experience will reshape the learning experience and demand that a new confidence in using online and openly available resources will be a new expectation of learning.

I would go further and ask whether this experience opens the door to some deeper and more rounded learning experiences. Many of the online lessons go back to a quite didactic style, where open questioning from lead-in lessons could begin to open, using wikis and collaborative learning opportunities, the chance to get learners curating knowledge and resources they find around subjects they are interested in.

I have heard of history teachers challenged that the language they have heard used and the topics covered in the Oak National Academy lessons are far deeper and challenging than they have expected of learners so the are exploring much deeper and meaningful work than they have thought previously possible and allowing learners to explore subjects more widely and to read around a subject more significantly, what a great impact!

English staff have said that rather than just presenting a text for examination purposes they are now asking learners to develop timelines for when a book was written and when it was set to understand the context and place of the book. Learners developing shared/collaborative timelines in a MSTeams wiki pages or Google classroom wiki to share out the effort and develop different aspects of social history and development. Really powerful and meaningful learning that opens the learner not just to different experiences but real collaborative learning.

There are so many resources and an explosion of possibilities the question that this leaves me with is what will remain in 6 to 12 months of all this effort and rich experiences. Or more to the point how can we capitalise on these brilliant developments in a way that opens the learning experience to a new normal?

Discuss if you are minded, contact us if you want to explore some possibilities. or call on 020370212854.

Further reading: