Returning to school: Guidance and what to look out for this September

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Since the Government’s guidance on easing restrictions earlier this month, we are starting to see what it is to return back to the classroom. In the last two weeks, we have seen a great number of academies start back up and welcome students back. Teachers and academy staff are working hard to maintain thriving learning environments that remain safe and in line with government guidance.

Amid the Department for Education's guidance published last week, school leaders across the Federation have and continue to make their academies safe places to work both for their staff and students.

Nicholas Soar is Executive Principal of Harris Academy St John’s Wood and Harris Academy Tottenham. Having reopened both academies in the last few weeks, he writes:

“Both my schools have a high proportion of pupils who were eligible to continue coming in during lockdown and we were keen to do as much as we could to encourage them. Regular and meaningful engagement with parents and families, and with social workers, was key to this.

We knew from the outset that we would want to telephone all of our families at least weekly, but we also identified the pupils who we felt needed a daily phone call. Before lockdown, we gave all staff making the calls mobile telephones with routine monthly top ups. We tried to have the same members of staff calling each family and coupled this with home visits for some pupils.

Our speech and language therapists continued to provide sessions for children online, as did our counsellors who also saw pupils where necessary in socially distanced ways.

Staff were empowered to offer support with things like food for the family, or laptops, internet access and other essentials they needed. They were able to build a relationship and sense of trust, with children and parents able to ask for our help and support if they needed it and staff able to spot shifts in mood.

When it came to encouraging pupils to come back, we wanted them to feel special and lucky, not singled out or stigmatised. Language is important and many families and children would never identify as ‘vulnerable’, so we used the word ‘eligible’ instead to describe why they were coming in.

We were as flexible as possible, with no requirements on uniform so that pupils were able to wear fresh clothes as much as possible. We also amended start and finish times when this was needed. Pupils coming in knew what to expect in terms of change, through tweets, videos, pictures and letters.

Where pupils were returning after a long time off, we had a phased return to help them cope with this – starting off with a day or two in school and then scaling up as they became more confident.

We made the days enjoyable so pupils would want to come back, and also made sure that the additional safety measures in place – such as temperature checks and handwashing stations outside school – would make them feel safer rather than frightened! One of our young primary pupils has a passion for a particular science fiction movie character, so staff took on roles of creatures from this film at the school gate and used the infra-red thermometers as imaginary sci-fi testing. This made him feel part of a world that was safe rather than scary, and it was uplifting to see."

Returning to the classroom

As we move into full preparatory transitions, heeding government advice closely, teachers everywhere are gearing up to return this September. We have put some tips together to help you formulate what teaching should like now you’re back in the classroom. To get to grips with the guidance and what it means for teachers, read TES’s guide to September’s back to school plan.’

 

-  Set the tone for a focused and calm environment

Social distancing has and will continue to play a valuable and important role in the return to classroom learning. Ensuring that there is a welcoming, calm environment for students to settle into means communication from a distance is more doable and less strained under a loud class atmosphere. Practising and expressing through calm behaviours and communication can help set the tone for students to understand and follow this with you. This is especially important as transitions back into school can be overwhelming for students. Providing a quiet and purposeful environment can allow for students to focus and feel comfortable back in the classroom.

 

- Take time to ensure you are getting your point across as clear as possible

Giving clear instruction and thorough explanations have never been more important! Ensuring that students aren’t having trouble grasping concepts or are unsure of tasks and objectives is more difficult now more than ever. Distancing means that it is verily giving extra thought to the delivery and language used in giving instruction, talking through a task and or concept can help minimise any confusion or trouble grasping ideas or objectives. Written support is also a great way to help reaffirm without having to communicate this throughout lesson.

 

- Reflecting on digital learning, what worked?

It has been a reflective time for all and in the spirit of embracing new ways of learning as many teachers and students did whilst in lockdown, it is important to carry what has worked forward. Utilising resources that help bridge the gap between at home independent learning and in-class experience can help build independent learning skills and encourage higher level learning in and outside of the classroom. Making more use of blended learning approaches can also diversify how learning occurs. Whether it is resource banks or educational content channels, there are many different ways to approach and perfect a balance that suits your classroom. Click here for more ways to utilise blended learning approaches here.

 

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