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Returning to the normality of the classroom

Returning to the normality of the classroom

We are quickly approaching the end of the third week of children returning to school post remote-learning. How have both teachers and students found the transition back to “normality”?

We asked Peter Hughes, CEO of the Mossbourne Federation, how he and his team have found the last couple of weeks.

  • How has the first week of students returning to school gone?

Really well! We’ve had a 97.5% attendance in the first week, which is fantastic. Everyone seems to have settled back into the routine of school very quickly. It’s lovely to welcome our students back and see their smiling faces. The school feels alive, like a school again!

Seeing how excited students are to rekindle relationships with friends and move away from just looking at people through a screen all day was incredible. It reaffirmed why we got into teaching in the first place.

Teaching students face-to-face again is so vital for us as teachers. It is an entirely different dynamic to teaching over a screen. We can see the look on their faces when they take in the knowledge and information that we’re teaching them. It’s such an essential part of teaching and learning.

  • We know that there is a lot of pressure on teachers to close the attainment gap for students that have fallen behind during the remote-learning period. What preparations have you made at Mossbourne to help with this?

We have to remember that all students are always at different stages of learning from their peers. Our job as teachers is to assess this, look at the curriculum and then figure out how best to support each student.

The main thing that we’re focusing on is delivering high-quality teaching. We need to maintain our standards at all times and give our students more high-quality face-to-face time with their teachers. The biggest mistake we can make is changing the expectations of what we want from students.

For me it’s all about quality-first teaching. Knowing where students are, where they need to be and then deciding how best to get them there. The people that can do this the best are the classroom teachers. We’re looking at adaptations to the curriculum and seeing what small elements we can take out of it that won’t affect our students’ long-term education.

The government have introduced catch up and tutoring programmes which can have an impact. Ultimately though we need to be putting teachers in front of students again and making sure they’re doing a great job delivering excellent teaching.

Another thing we’ve done is to use the additional funding and some of our reserves to increase the number of teaching hours from five to six per subject.

We know students have lost over a third of a year of classroom time. We’ve added 20% of that time back to make sure they’re as prepared as possible for the next step in their education journey or chosen career path.

  • Have you seen a change in behaviour in your students? Adjusting to being back in the classroom and knowing that they may not be where they should be academically must be pretty stressful for some of them.

The Mossbourne culture is designed around routine. The wonderful thing about this is that once students get back into the routine, things begin to feel normal again very quickly. Yes, students are a bit more subdued than usual at the minute and are getting used to classroom dynamics again. But this is something we would see even just returning from a holiday, for example. We quickly get back to normality after a period of time.

There are always students that worry about where they are academically, regardless of COVID. Our existing systems and procedures along with a focus on improving the quality of teaching are what are going to support our students through this period.

We’re giving teachers more training on spotting mental health concerns and making sure they know students may be more stressed and anxious than normal. It’s our job to reassure them, support them and help them get to where they want to be. We’ve engaged in a project with Hackney Council which means we have a closer connection and partnership with CAMHS. Part of this partnership means that we now have someone from their team on-site at our school to support our students that are struggling.

  • It’s hard to predict how the rest of the year will go. What are your thoughts on the current government guidelines and plans from the DfE?

We have no idea what the rest of the year will hold. If we’ve learnt anything though it’s how resilient and adaptable both teachers and students are. If we don’t have a new strain or variant of COVID I think the rest of the school year should be quite normal.

The biggest challenge we face now, in my opinion, is how we are going to assess our Year 11 and 13 students. We have had nothing concrete from the exam boards. We need clear guidance on the appeals process and a defined structure for how we can fairly assess students. Students must feel confident in the result they get the first time around.

We also heard from Rebecca Warren, Principal of Mossbourne Community Academy, on our recent webinar. She discussed ideas and strategies for ensuring students achieve great outcomes post remote-learning.

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