It looks as if we could finally be coming out of the other side of the pandemic, and governments worldwide are beginning to ease lockdown restrictions on their populations. Here Professor Sir George Berwick, OLEVI Chair, takes a look at what our colleagues are doing to prepare for a return to some semblance of normality.
This week, alongside the regular updates from our usual contacts in Dubai, England, Quebec and Sweden, we are joined by two more colleagues. Doctor Lesley Stagg, Senior Adviser, Children, Young People, Education and Skills, at the Government of Jersey and Simon Thompson, Deputy Headteacher (Dirprwy Bennaeth), Cardiff High School (Ysgol Uwchradd Caerdydd), Wales (Cymru) offer insight to their relative situations. All have reported a hive of activity.
The Dubai Government has further eased the restrictions on physical movement, allowing visits to the malls provided you are aged over 12 and under 60 and are wearing a face mask. This includes visiting restaurants where social distancing arrangements still apply but face masks can be removed. They have also opened some of the beaches. The more intrepid of our colleagues have taken advantage of this and ventured out but others are less willing to do so. Still, being able to walk the dog early every morning makes spending long days delivering virtual lessons and all the work that surrounds them, a little more palatable. That is until you receive notice from the Dubai Inspectorate, the KHDA, that they are coming to review your newly established home learning arrangements. As they say, timing in life is everything.
Schools here are working towards a partial opening in June. They have now established a routine but concerns still surround teacher and student access, the low take-up of online learning, who should be prioritised for physical school access, and how to support vulnerable and disadvantaged students.
Jersey is a Crown Protectorate and as such administers its own response to the Coronavirus. This meant that on Monday the time allowed outside of the home was increased from two to four hours, activities allowed were widened from solely exercise and as long as social distancing was observed, you could meet three other people.
Jersey’s education system is also different to England but more like Quebec. For example, there is no local management of schools and they have a number of senior advisers and advisers who provide support for their 22 non-paying primary and five non-paying secondary schools. There are also a number of fee-paying government schools and some private schools on the island. The Standards and Achievement Education Team, comprising all the advisers along with senior adviser Lesley Stagg, has developed a support programme for parents and students to support homeschooling: learningathome.gov.je.
It was launched last Thursday and received more than 2,874 hits on the first day, with interest from as far afield as Hong Kong.
The site was designed to meet parents’ concerns about the difficulty of navigating online resources. It provides information for three age ranges: Three to five year olds, five to 11 year olds and 11 to 14 years. To cater for the significant number of non-native speaking students and parents, the website can be translated to eight different languages. The largest group are Portuguese, Polish and Romanian. One of the schools has 80 per cent non-native speakers and most schools have between 20 – 40 per cent.
One of the issues they are grappling with is the safe transition of vulnerable students from one key stage to the next.
Mike Dubeau and his team are preparing for the planned partial re-opening of schools next Monday, May 11. Between 17 and 18 per cent of their elementary students have registered to return to school next week. Reusable face masks are to be purchased for staff who request them. They are phasing the students’ return over three days and a training programme on distance learning is being offered to teachers. The first module which takes between 15 and 20 hours to complete covers adapting a course to distance learning, sharing training resources, supporting students from a distance and evaluating student learning from a distance.
Mats Rosenkvist reports that, as you might have heard, Sweden has employed a different approach to dealing with the pandemic, preferring to offer strong recommendations instead of imposing a complete lockdown.
Mats says all play schools, primary and secondary schools remain open as they have since the crisis started. Upper secondary schools and higher education, meanwhile, have been utilising online teaching since mid March. The challenges here have been attendance, with quite a few teachers staying home on sick leave, in particular families with an immigrant background or from other parts of the world. These families haven’t been sure which authorities to trust – the Swedish or the authorities in their country of origin. The Minister of Education and all Head Teachers have pointed out that the law with mandatory school attendance for all children still applies.
Attendance is now rising, and most teachers are back at work. Upper secondary and higher education will continue with online learning for at least the remainder of this academic year. Mats adds that an important fact is that in Sweden, the open schools have not been an environment where the virus has spread. The debate now is about what impact low attendance and online teaching will have had on learning – how much ‘repair’ and repetition teachers will have to focus on during the next academic year.
Simon Thompson is the second of our new voices. He is Deputy Head Teacher at Cardiff High School – a high performing, mixed, comprehensive school with 1,700 students in an urban setting. The school is an OLEVI Designated Centre of Excellence (DOC) and Simon presented one of the case studies at the OLEVI International Conference.
He reported that Cardiff High established a virtual online learning platform immediately upon being informed that students would work from home. Their aim was to provide an online platform which would support student academic development and wellbeing. They introduced a fortnightly parental survey to monitor its use. From the first set of survey results they found that parents and students felt overwhelmed with the amount of information being provided and many tasks undertaken at school took much longer at home. So, for them the Easter break was timely. It gave them a chance to re-group.
They choose to provide regular summary documents to each year group. This set out clearly what was to be achieved over each two-weekly period and how the resources supported this approach. So now they have a more focused approach when they are accessing the online resource.
For the 250 vulnerable students they have identified they have supplemented this with tailored support including a weekly phone call to see how things were progressing. Overall the take up is around 50% though it varies between year groups and from subject to subject. Simon says that devising new ways of working proved strange at first, but that the school is now getting into a rhythm. The ‘can do’ approach, forging their own way forward rather than waiting to get advice from elsewhere, has served them well.
On an upbeat note, this week Simon Thompson and a colleague hosted Cardiff High School’s virtual pub quiz with more than 70 staff taking part, The Times recorded that Sir Jon Coles, Chairman of Challenge Partners, CEO of the United Learning group of schools and whilst in the Department of Education, their main architect of London Challenge, shared his birthday with Adele, and Laura Conlon made her parents very proud when they heard she had gained Qualified Teacher Status.
As ever we would like to thank all of our contributors for their invaluable insights. Take care and stay safe