More children in schools for lockdown 3

January 27 2021
More children in schools for lockdown 3

MORE than four out of ten children are attending lessons at some schools in the Thornbury area, as staff, pupils and parents face new challenges in the third lockdown.

It comes as the amount of home learning organised online for other pupils is stepped up, with more live lessons via video links and increased contact and interaction, with more work being uploaded and marked than in the first lockdown last March.

Schools are also organising laptops, through both government schemes and donations, to give to families who do not have the necessary technology at home.

Schools have faced many challenges, from the short notice of the cancellation of the regular term to hours of work preparing to test secondary pupils for COVID-19, only to see those plans put on hold.

Castle School head teacher Joe Docherty said: “They say the best teachers are those who recognise that they are still learners. My days are increasingly heartened when I see and hear the ways in which school life is continuing in a regular daily way, for almost all of our students.” Castle teachers now hold live online lessons in every subject, with science teachers doing experiments on screen and pupils taking part in live workouts for PE. Children of critical workers and those with additional needs who are still going into school follow the same online lessons as pupils at home, but with additional support from staff.

Different schools are delivering the required hours of learning specified by the government in different ways, using a variety of internet platforms.

Gillingstool Primary is using Oak Academy for lessons and Zoom for feedback and interaction. At Christ the King Primary, children are using Google Classroom for lessons and Zoom for class interaction.

Will Roberts, the chief executive of the Castle School Education Trust, oversees seven schools including Castle and Marlwood.

He said staff quickly learnt that it was important to enable each school to "do what works", to make a “blend of different approaches rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”

All the schools that spoke to the Voice reported an increase in the numbers of pupils attending in person, when compared with the first lockdown, as the rules allow more key worker families to send children to school and class more as 'vulnerable'.

At Tockington Manor School (pictured above), 47% of children are now in, with bubbles created to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Christ the King Primary has 41% of children attending, up from between 15 and 20% last March. Head teacher Mary Mainwaring attributes this partly to the change made by government to class children who do not have space or a laptop to work at home as vulnerable, allowing them to come in.

But there is still a significant shortage of equipment for those learning remotely. The Castle School has worked in partnership with The Computer Store in the St Mary Centre, Thornbury, which has provided reconditioned laptops, and parents have donated unused devices through the Friends association.

Mr Docherty said the school has had 65 laptops from the Department for Education, which was "nowhere near enough to meet demand".

Gillingstool Primary School head teacher Caroline Carter also said families were "struggling with devices".

She has had five laptops delivered but is still waiting for another 16.

Despite widespread public concern nationally over the quality of food parcels for children on free school meals, the schools told the Voice they had had no complaints about parcels which have been provided by Integra, South Gloucestershire Council’s supplier.

They are however now all joining the national voucher scheme to give parents choice, and to avoid families having to travel to pick up parcels.

The next challenge on the horizon for school leaders is running COVID-19 testing on site for staff and pupils. This has already started at some schools, including Tockington Manor School. Mr Roberts said CSET was starting staff testing next week before looking at student testing, saying: "We’d like a bit more evidence of efficacy of the tests first.

"I want to be in position where we are ready to do that if there is a national green light on it. It is a useful additional control measure but it needs to be on top of everything else that we do."