Meeting the challenges head-on

Two very different regions have each faced their own unique challenges during the pandemic. Now, as we adapt to a new educational landscape, we learn how Jersey and Wales are approaching the months ahead.

While the severity of the coronavirus outbreak varies considerably between the island of Jersey and the urban environment of Cardiff, the impact is still felt throughout, and, as with  areas we have already reported upon, illustrates how our collaborative learning community is adapting to this situation  with fortitude, forbearance and a sprinkle of imagination. In this blog we hear from Lesley Stagg, Senior Adviser, Department of Education, Jersey, and Simon Thompson, Deputy Headteacher, Cardiff High School/Ysgol Uwchradd Caerdydd.  

Jersey

Lesley Stagg writes: “Following a number of surveys carried out by schools and the Department of the students and parents, it was found that those students who suffered the most during lockdown were pupils who use English as an additional Language.  There is a significant number of these students on the island and the ‘English as an Additional Language (EAL) peripatetic team is supporting them and their families on an as-needed basis.  They offered families and schools support, guidance and translation services.

“In addition, schools have offered targeted support with learning.  For example, Janvrin Primary School ran morning sessions for Year 1 and a few Year 2 pupils to help them with their language and literacy skills, as well as offering creative sessions.  The head and SENCO were in school for most of the break, having also been in school during the Easter break.

“Sadly, schools were unable to take their young people out on day trips (on the island) and felt many opportunities were missed for them.  However, the impact of coronavirus on Jersey has been minimal for most, due to the strict controls upon entry to the island, along with an excellent track and trace system.  On the whole, people in Jersey are compliant with any restrictions placed on them, and are grateful for the beaches and open spaces where they can exercise and meet friends. So far, the number of Covid cases has been very low and for that we are all grateful.

“As with every school across the UK, the exams fiasco was a roller coaster of uncertainty and emotional responses … After all, these are teenagers who are affected.  It has generally calmed down now and most young people are satisfied with their results under the extraordinary circumstances. We wonder what will happen with exams in 2021.

“Schools are now fully open and it was great to see the arrival of young people keen to learn and be with their friends once again.It is the uncertainty of the winter months ahead that now worries all of us …

The one area that I have been noticing is the effect the lockdown has had on our young people in relation to their mental health.  Their needs are high, especially in secondary schools.  These are manifested in depression, self-harm and negative outbursts.  In primary schools, we have noticed that children have gained weight and become more sedentary during lockdown.  Despite the beautiful beaches and countryside, all within walking distance wherever you are on the island, many children have barely been outside for the past six months.  Observing a primary PE class yesterday, I asked one seven year-old about her activities at home and she replied: “watching TV and playing computer games.”  I am afraid that this is sadly repeated across many homes. Sometimes, we can look to parenting skills, but mainly our families are trying to hold down two or three jobs to provide for their children and just have no time to go to the beach or park.”

Wales

Simon Thompson, Deputy Headteacher at Cardiff High School, reports that dealing with the impact of Coronavirus has had a significant impact on teachers in Wales.  He writes: “As you will have seen from the news, most of South Wales is now in a Lockdown where extended family bubbles have been suspended and we are no longer able to meet anyone from outside our immediate household indoors, in each other’s homes or in hospitality outlets. Neither are we able to travel outside of county borders as travel is also restricted. Schools of course remain open at this time. 

“The term started very well. The pupils have shown a great deal of maturity in returning to what is a very different school to the one they left in March, with one way systems, year group zoning, sanitising systems and revised protocols. They have been a credit to themselves, showing excellent behaviour throughout and also very positive attitudes to learning.  Staff have been excellent throughout, going the extra mile to ensure that the school is a safe place, as well as ensuring that pupils continue to receive high quality learning experiences in the classroom despite the obvious restrictions with teachers not being able to circulate between rooms and so on.

“The demands on school leadership teams at this time are unprecedented and immense.  There is such a level of responsibility in ensuring that schools remain safe, first and foremost, but also that the school curriculum is delivered to a high standard with continued quality in teaching and learning.  We are making contingency plans for blended learning approaches if year groups have to isolate due to contact tracing. We are all up for the challenge and are meeting it head on to get the job done.

“We are trying to ensure that there is weekly communication with families to update them regularly and reassure the school community. Wellbeing is a huge focus for us – it is one of our key focus areas in trying to support staff and pupils in the return back to statutory education with a whole host of wellbeing initiatives.  Attendance has been very good – we have averaged between 85 per cent – 90 per cent attendance (which is a little lower than our normal attendance of 94-95 per cent, but we are pleased given the circumstances). Due to COVID restrictions,  we have also had to cancel normal school events such as open evenings and options evenings which take place at this time of year. We are replacing these with online digital versions. 

“Blended Learning is the other main game in town. This is our key school priority for the year, where we are preparing for continuity of learning should year groups have to remain home for periods of time or worse still, if there is another partial or full lockdown.  We have worked hard to create a home learning timetable, which pupils and staff will automatically switch to in this event. The timetable has been built to include a blend of live synchronous teaching, recorded webinars and digital distance learning using Google Classrooms. We have prepared webinars for pupils, staff and parents on how this will work and this has gone down well with our school community (Other school priorities which would have been forefront have now been put into a shadow  school improvement plan (SIP), which Leadership are quietly working on in the background when we can). https://www.cardiffhigh.cardiff.sch.uk/page/?title=Home+Learning+Timetable&pid=897

“We have also front-loaded a significant amount of professional learning into this key term, with three inset days at the start of term and two twilight inset sessions, focused on clarity of vision for blended learning, pedagogy of a blended learning approach and technical support in using various digital platforms. We are also running OTP cohorts and leadership cohorts which started this month and run through to December to provide ongoing PL to the wider region after the very successful first online remote OTP and Outstanding Leadership in Education (OLE) cohorts, which we ran in the Summer Term (June – July). At that time, 50 delegates successfully complete the training programmes 

“So all in all, a very busy but also a very positive start to the year.”

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We are grateful that Lesley and Simon have been able to find the time to keep us informed of how events are unfolding in Jersey and Wales.   

Take care and stay safe 

George