Our Home schooling Journey at St Francis Catholic Primary School
When Boris Johnson made the decision to close schools back in March – which seems like a lifetime ago now – we, along with many other schools across the nation, were hit with a number of different emotions. Firstly, there was a sense of fear – things were clearly getting serious and we were about to experience something that most of us had never been through before. Then there was relief – by closing we could keep our children, staff and their families much safer. And finally, there was a mild panic – how were we possibly meant to get everything sorted for the children to continue learning in less than 2 days!
Fortunately, the week before, Tim Bleazard from the Bradford Council’s Curriculum Innovation team had sent all computing subject leaders information about how to set up home learning. It seemed quite surreal at the time to think that full school closure might actually happen, but nonetheless, after a conversation with our Head of School, we decided to get the ball rolling – just in case.
We made a decision that Years 3 – 6 would use Google Classroom while Early Years to Year 2 would use Purple Mash to begin with. We quickly set up a home learning section on our website with a page for every class and made ‘how to’ videos to show parents how to access both Purple Mash and Google Classroom. Our staff in the lower year groups set a number of tasks on Purple Mash and every teacher created a pack of work to send home for the first week, which included a reading book, log in details to Purple Mash, Spelling Shed, Maths Shed and Accelerated Reader, as well as Google logins for the KS2 children who would be using Google Classroom.
We were in a fortunate position in Key Stage 2 – after deciding to replace our old laptops with Chromebooks a few years ago, every pupil had a Google Chrome account which they used to log on, and all of Key Stage 2 were used to using Google Docs and Slides and accessing their work from Google Drive. This meant that all we had to do to organise Google Classroom was to add the children to the correct classroom and then give the children and teachers a crash course in how to access and use it. Fortunately, our teachers took to it straight away. Being able to schedule lessons meant that they could plan in advance and were able to feed back directly to the children. The children enjoyed being able to communicate with their teacher by adding comments to their completed work, and also the novelty of being able to access all of their work on their computer or iPad!
Of course, there were teething problems – introducing a whole new system of learning to children and parents in under 2 days was bound to cause some confusion. We set up an email address dedicated to home learning so that parents could email with any problems or issues they were having. Myself and our Assistant Headteacher were tasked with manning this account. We were inundated immediately! Unfortunately, some children had already been taken out of school before we closed, and so missed the introduction to Google Classroom, and others quickly forgot how to use it over the weekend! Many were struggling with issues such as how to attach work they had completed or how to create a Google Doc. With lots of patience and guidance from our teachers, we were able to sort many of these problems, and staff found new ways of setting work, such as creating pre-made documents for each child to edit.
In addition to the technical issues, there was also the problem of how to make sure children were engaging with the learning – a seemingly impossible task! We did our best to ‘check in’ with families with regular phone calls, and tried our best to answer emails as they came in. We loaned Chromebooks to families who were struggling for devices and talked parents through how to access Google Classroom on phones and iPads. By half term, around 2 weeks after the closure of schools, we were pleased and proud that over half of each KS2 class were accessing at least some of the learning being set.
By the holidays, we also realised we needed to make a decision on KS1 and Early Years. For the last two weeks children had been completing the work that had been sent home in packs, as well as tasks set on Purple Mash. Compared to the three lessons a day that were being set in KS2 following our long-term plan as closely as possible, this just didn’t seem enough.
Before the holidays, our nursery teacher had started setting her learning in the form of a daily document which included tasks for Maths, English and Knowledge and Understanding. It was posted on the website daily and included shout outs to the children who had completed work the day before. Parents emailed in the work they had completed which could be then forwarded on to the teacher to see and respond to the next day. We noticed that the number of children completing work massively increased and made a decision that the rest of Early Years and KS1 should set their work in the same way. This meant we could all follow our long-term plans and that the children would be able to complete a Maths, English and foundation subject lesson on a daily basis.
Of course, our home learning email absolutely exploded over the next few weeks, but wading through the emails was completely worth it to see the quality of work produced by our children, and the heartwarming pictures of them enjoying learning with their families. We found that the daily shout outs encouraged children to keep sending their work in, and also for others to start taking part.
Feeling confident that our home learning was proving as successful as it could be, our Head of School began creating virtual ‘merit worships’ to celebrate children’s achievements each week, as well as Monday morning worships based on Sunday’s Gospel. She introduced virtual staff prayers on a Wednesday and we continued our weekly staff meetings using Google Meets. At the end of the term we created a ‘virtual disco’, which proved a huge success, and we created our very own ‘Monster Mash’ staff video message for all of our children.
While clearly home learning could and should never replace the daily face to face learning in a classroom, it would be a shame not to look at the positives. Our staff have never before had such an opportunity to set so many creative tasks. We haven’t had to worry about enough work in books or making sure there is evidence of learning – the children have had a wonderful opportunity to express themselves and try new ways of learning. Their computing skills have massively improved (which as computing lead is very pleasing!) and we have a ready made system of how to set homework for when things eventually get back to normal. Of course, there are many families who have been unable to or chosen not to take part in the learning, but for those who have, we believe they have been given the best opportunities possible during an unprecedented crisis. One which hopefully we will never have to experience again.
Article by Emma Speake – @emma_ess87