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How Cambridgeshire schools and teachers have risen to the challenge of educating during lockdown

Pupils remote learning (34351376)
Pupils remote learning (34351376)

The work of teachers during the coronavirus pandemic has been largely unheralded, but greatly valued.

From working out remote lessons to going into school to teach the children of key workers to delivering food parcels, they have had to adapt quickly to continue educating the next generation as the government’s restrictions have changed the way we live.

In many cases, it is a story of using new technology to remain at the heart of communities, providing a point of contact or a friendly face, offering assistance, and making sure that families know there is someone there to help – be it in school or at home.

With being online the key, Impington Village College had been planning to introduce Microsoft Teams for the next academic year, but when lockdown was announced, what was planned to be a 20-hour programme of learning for staff over a six-week period was delivered within a week.

“We had to upskill everyone and roll that out inside of a week when we got word that we were likely to being asked to shutdown and deliver remote learning,” said Ryan Kelsall, the Impington Village College principal.

“The staff have been fantastic. One positive that will come out of this moving forward is that we are in a far stronger position to engage learners using new technology and remote learning than we would have ever been before because of the necessity of having to do it and getting it up and running so quickly.

“The staff, students and parents have been hugely flexible and have really embraced the challenge of moving to this new platform and that was really important to us.”

IVC provided Tesco giftcards to all families entitled to free school meals, initially charged for two weeks before a further six weeks were added – and plans going forward are currently under review. And they have also been working hard to ensure digital access for those without it, purchasing 20 Chromebooks.

Mr Kelsall added: “I think the positive relationships we’ve developed with the students, staff, parents and community have meant we’ve all been able to work together to meet the challenges that have come up.”

Microsoft Teams has also been a essential element of adjustment for teaching staff at St Mary’s Junior School.

It made the decision to do everything online using the software, for children in reception class all the way through to Year 6, so the computer science teacher ran lessons for staff throughout the Easter holidays.

Reception pupils and their parents have two meetings a day – one at either end that includes registration, phonics and story time – while those from Year 3 to Year 6 have live access all day, with teachers on hand throughout having initially delivered the input of the lesson.

“We’re really impressed by the pupils, they’re always a bit further ahead I think than adults are on these things,” said Matthew O’Reilly, head of juniors at St Mary’s School.

“How the teachers, within a matter of weeks, went from teaching physically face to face to online was quite remarkable.

“How they have managed to do it in such a short space of time, the dedication is really to be admired.”

The work of the teachers has been well received by parents, with other initiatives having been live and pre-recorded assemblies on YouTube, children of key workers writing to the school’s elderly neighbours offering help, and a virtual choir who will be performing Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again.

Magic Breakfast deliveries for North Cambridge Academy. Picture: Sam Ladds (34335391)
Magic Breakfast deliveries for North Cambridge Academy. Picture: Sam Ladds (34335391)

North Cambridge Academy has worked with Magic Breakfast to provide weekly breakfast provision to 226 children – delivered each week by teachers Mr Woodhouse, Mr Matthews, Mr Marin and Mr Campbell – and they are also working with partners to deliver 125 Kindle Fires to people that had digital access challenges. That is as well as maintaining regular contact with pupils and families.

Sam Fox, principal at NCA, said: “If I’m being honest, I feel that the core purposes of schools remain the same. We’ve always been asked to ensure pupils learn a varied, broad and balanced curriculum and to ensure children are safe and supported.

“What has changed is the methods by which we do that, but the core purpose of what we’re doing has remained the same, it’s just the context is clearly different.

“We have a staff body and a group of people that are feeling highly valued, certainly by our parents and our community. We have felt that our work has been really valued and recognised by the parents and the community.

“This period has just strengthened that relationship between the community and the school. The parents deeply value the work that is being set, the support is there to help them do it, and equally the school valuing the work the parents are doing to make the best of this and to educate them the best they can in the different situations they are in.”

Stephen Munday of CAM Trust - Pcture: Judy Czylok. (34335464)
Stephen Munday of CAM Trust - Pcture: Judy Czylok. (34335464)

Stephen Munday, CEO of The Cam Academy Trust, which has four secondary schools, two sixth forms and seven primary phase schools, said: “It has been little short of inspirational to see how schools, teachers and other school staff have reacted and adapted so quickly and so positively to our completely changed circumstances, including the closure of schools to all but a very few pupils.

“Almost overnight, all involved with schools have moved to work in new ways to support the learning of all pupils in all of our schools.

“They have also been strongly mindful of those pupils, and families, who are most vulnerable in this sort of situation and looked at ways of providing additional support, such as regular phone calls and other supportive measures.

“It is a remarkable testament to the commitment and capability of the teaching profession, and indeed all those who work in and with schools in any way, that this adapted way of working has happened so quickly and effectively.

“There has been no hesitation in doing this, not even in the so-called Easter ‘break’ and even on nominated bank holidays.

“In truth, it makes one feel both proud and honoured to be associated with the teaching profession.”

The Perse School has made more than 500 videos featuring teachers explaining topics hosted on the Cambridge-based AI maths learning platform Blutick, and it has had more than one million questions answered on it since being made free to all since the school closures.

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