Teachers go above and beyond to support pupils amid lockdown
Teachers across the Midlands have risen to the challenge over the past two months to ensure children can continue to learn despite lockdown.
When the Government took the decision to close schools in March, thousands of teachers had to quickly come up with solutions to support their pupils.
Chris Burden, who teaches at St Michaels’ CE in Rowley Regis, said: "It was a very steep learning curve. The Government announced closures on Wednesday, and then expected a full teaching schedule to be up and running by Monday.
"That required a huge amount of work by class teachers to achieve.
"Teaching digitally is really nuanced. I love the amount of time I get to mark and feedback on the student’s work. Because I spent less time on break duties, lunch and in meetings, I have a lot more time to give dedicated personal feedback to the students.
"It’s been difficult because you go into teaching to look after, nurture, and educate young minds. This distance feels like it has taken the personal touch away from teaching which is really sad."
Throughout lockdown, a small number of teachers have been going into school - some on a rota basis - to continue teaching children of key workers and priority learners.
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The curriculum has not only been academic but also with enrichment activities and exercises to help look after children's mental wellbeing.
Matthew Carpenter, principal of Baxter College in Kidderminster, added: "Our priority learners have been coming in each day, including over holiday periods, and we have been trying to stay in touch with as many other learners virtually as possible.
"It's a really difficult time for them as teenagers, a lot are suffering from boredom or isolation and going a bit stir crazy, but the gratitude we have had from our community and parents has been positive."
However, the transition has presented a number of challenges, with some teachers plunged into unknown territory and having to adapt their own digital skills and quickly become IT whizzes.
It has also presented other challenges to families who have limited access to resources and technology, particularly with parents working from home as well and multiple people reliant on one computer.
Mr Carpenter added: "Some of our teachers were better at IT than others, so we have had some challenges adapting to online teaching, but there has been a lot of support from the IT department.
"Something we have noticed is the amount of access students have to IT really reinforces social disadvantages, as some households that have more than one child only have one laptop.
"I think we needed months to prepare training resources."
Teaching staff have done all they can to step up to these challenges despite uncertainty and have continued to provide resources and virtual teaching sessions for their pupils.
"We have turned resources around and adapted very quickly, we have all been learning together," explained Shelley Reeves-Walters, executive headteacher of Wolverley Sebright Primary, Kidderminster, and Far Forest Lea Memorial CE Primary.
"We had developed our online programme before the official lockdown.
"We have been using Google Classrooms where work is set and I have been doing assemblies on our Twitter, for us it was about maintaining the personal touch with the things that make our school special anf the feedback has been really positive."
A Northfield Road Primary School in Netherton has been helping parents who are home schooling their children by forming its own 'micro-school'.
Nicola Bennett, headteacher, set up the micro-school at the school's entrance. It contains craft materials, tools and school supplies mostly donated by staff and families have been invited to collect packs to use at home.
On the first day alone, 61 families were recorded using the 'micro-school'.
Mrs Bennett says: "Northfield Road Primary School prides itself on being the centre of a community that is rich in heritage, our community is close knit and have come together brilliantly during this challenging time.
"The school aims to support all families through a mixture of online and micro school content.
"After receiving feedback from parents most still wanted hard copies of the learning packs. This is where the idea of a Daily Walk Micro School evolved. Public Health England agreed parents could collect packs on their daily walk so we created a micro school in two wheel barrows, available to the whole community as based outside the school gates.
"The micro school has strict measures in place to maintain social distancing and hygiene; keeping everyone safe and is overseen by key workers in school.
"It is evolving daily and not only contains pupil work packs but messages from staff: art pick and mix, pampering products, magazines, small gifts, motivational materials, plants and a micro library. It's a complete wellbeing hub."
Although there is uncertainty for students about when they will be returning back to school and face-to-face teaching, schools are consistently reassessing measures to find the best way of ensuring pupils have a full education despite Covid-19.