Thousands of schools in China closed at the start of the CoVid19 epidemic. In order to maintain learning, they’ve all gone online. As the first schools to have experienced such a radical change, some insights may be of interest for our fellow schools across the world.
The key messages are: You Can Do It. Prepare NOW.
If your school teaches Year 5 (9 year olds) or above you can successfully transform your school into an online school and continue to deliver a quality education.
Preparing now will help. The following 14 steps are recommended:
Manage Home Liaison: (Vice-Principal/ Deputy Head) Implementing and operating the online school requires a much higher level of co-operation between home and school. Grow your home-contact team by adding to it all the personnel who will be under-utilised during the online school experience and put them under the leadership of a dynamic SLT member. Develop a communications plan and enable daily, individual, detailed two way interaction between parents and the school. Have the technology in place to enable your switchboard to operate as normal even when your receptionists are working from home.
Identify The Responsible Adults At Home: (Child’s parents/guardians). There has to be someone at all times to supervise each pupil. It can be any of the child’s parents or guardians (e.g. parent, grandparent…) This will require changes into how the family operates at home – home working etc may need to be arranged – as the children cannot be left unsupervised for extended periods of time. Get the families to make these arrangements and communicate them back to the school with contact details so the Liaison Team know who is in charge at home during the day and can deal with them directly.
Prepare Home Tech: (Child’s parents/guardians) Every child needs to have access to a screen (minimum 10 inches from bottom left to top right), headphones & microphone, and good broadband. Many homes will have all of these already. Identify which households have a gap and advise low/zero cost solutions. Once a family has home tech installed, get it tested by your Liaison Team in a remote session, before you launch the online school.
Prepare The Home Classroom: (Child’s parents/guardians) A suitable space to sit and work. Proper chair, proper table, quiet. Not the sofa, not the floor, not with the TV on. It can be anywhere, e.g. a desk in the bedroom; or the table in the living room. Make sure a photo of the proposed home classroom is seen and signed off by the Home Liaison Team.
Set Up Your Video Conference Facility: (IT). There’s lots there. Get one with excellent quality that can support all your classes simultaneously, each in their own online “room”. Install and test with each teacher and each family, make sure they can get online and use it.
Prepare For Teaching & Learning Online: (Every Teaching Department) Prepare for online delivery through the video conference facility. For many classes, you can to a considerable extent just operate your normal lessons, provided the teachers get used to the functions, limitations and opportunities of the virtual classroom. Some lessons will need to be very different, e.g. music class – you can’t play music together because of the time delay.
Seize the Ed Tech Opportunity: (Everyone) Steps 1-6 will allow you to more or less replicate your school day online. Ring the bell at 8am, take attendance, and run as normal! However, EdTech enables teaching and learning in completely different, and better, ways. So be open to other approaches that will present and impement them where possible – but don’t get distracted from the need to have a tolerably functioning online school at very short notice.
Ensure Physical Wellbeing: (PE) The major issues are lack of exercise, too much screen time, and kids’ mental health. Your PE department needs to get to grips with this though a proper exercise routine that is implemented from day 1. This is not the same approach as timetabled PE in school. Instead, plan for short (2 to 10 minute) at-home workouts at the start of the day, and in between classes. Then prepare extended exercise sessions in the afternoon. If the children are not allowed outside, then prepare indoor routines. But if at all possible, programme arrangements for the responsible adult take their child outside for air and exercise every day. So long as the child gets active and raises their heart rate for at least 45 minutes every afternoon, it doesn’t really matter what their chosen activity is. Everyone – including school staff – can follow these routines. PE should regard their mandate as covering everyone!
Support Creativity: (D&T). With the online school, it is essential to make sure screens are switched off as much as possible to give the child a break. Be ready to encourage and foster fun, productive, off-line interests that can be used as long as the kids are doing online school. Examples are board games, art & craft, learning how to cook, growing plants.
Manage Safeguarding, Happiness & Mental Health: (Safeguarding & any other welfare staff) Be alert to children and their families getting frustrated in the cooped-up environment of a national lock down. Make sure that your normal safeguarding processes are still operating, and that the DSL follows up on any concerns raised directly with relevant families. Identify local sources of support that can be referred to to give practical assistance to any family that is struggling to cope with the locked down environment. Have an emergency solution to extract a child from their home environment for a short or extended period of time if necessary.
Proactively Engage With The Authorities: (Deputy Head & Exams Officer). There will be multiple points of engagement with the authorities, such as local government, DoE, OFSTED, exam boards and the like. Have a senior member of the team pick these up collectively and provide a single point of contact internally and externally.
Look After Each Other: (Principal) The whole school community – colleagues, parents and pupils – are going through this together. A teacher leading their pupils through a day of online learning might also be a parent stuck at home with their child, trying to cope with this exceptional situation. Support colleagues now as they prepare their own domestic arrangements for the shut down. Then during the closure period, have arrangements for one-to-one support for staff, plus full staff room gatherings, team talks and department talks online.
Set up Epidemic Prevention (or Crisis Management) Committee: (Principal’s PA) to meet (online) twice weekly to coordinate (leadership team, governor, business manager/operations director (for hygiene issues) , teaching and learning, parent liaison). Arrange SLT communication with governors via a weekly meeting.
Believe In Yourselves: (Everyone) We entered the valley together, and already we can see that we will, together, come out the other side. You will too. 加油！
We hope this has been a useful insight into how you can get prepared for the potential school closures.