Like Pebbles on a Beach

Listening to Paul Weller and the lyrics really resonated with me. Displaced. Not a feeling I’ve ever felt before in my career. I can normally work out a plan, see my way through and find the right path. Right now, if I’m honest, it is a struggle.

At the heart of what we do are young people. They are the reason we do the job that we do. The reason we give our all to ensure they have the best start in life, irregardless of their background. From everything we have read and heard over the past months the closure of schools has widened the ‘gap’ we have worked so hard to close over the past ten years.

School closures have made me acutely aware of the social differences young people in this country are faced with. In my classroom, I know who is PP, SEND, vulnerable, but they consistently make progress in line with their peers. I was proud of this achievement. I am determined to do it all over again.

So how to catch up? I’ve begun so many different plans. Then started them again. And again. I know we are all in the same boat. Where to start?

I wholeheartedly believe that the first step is to rebuild the relationships with our pupils. They will have all had different experiences during lockdown and it is our job to ensure they feel safe and confident again in our schools and classrooms. Young people will have experienced bereavement, missed members of their families, missed their friends and the chance to just be young people. If a young person's behaviour is ‘different’ or more challenging it is our duty to explore why and take the time to talk to them and rebuild that trust and the relationship. One strategy put in place by my school in the last few weeks is the employment of a full-time counsellor. Counselling has always been available in school but not on this scale. This is a step towards supporting our young people and helping them find their way again in the ‘post-Covid’ world.

The other issue that we have is the gaps in skills and knowledge that have been caused by school closures. I, for one, think my lessons on Educreations and Teams have been amazing – but what impact have they really had? They aren’t as good as a traditional lesson in the classroom where questioning and addressing misconceptions just flows naturally. The engagement varies dependent on the ability of the classes and I worry about the young people who haven’t participated. Our PSOs and Heads of Learning have done a fantastic job supporting us by contacting parents and explaining how the virtual platforms work to young people but this hasn’t always led to increased uptake from some groups.

So how to address the new gap? Faced with the prospect of over 150 young people coming through my classroom door in September where do I start? The curriculum needs to be engaging and we certainly can’t just ‘pick up where we left off’ and ‘carry on regardless.’ Careful planning is required but a great deal of what is needed can’t be planned until we have got the young people in front of us to ‘diagnose’ the gaps in their learning. This is necessary in all year groups from 7-11. When I think about Year 7s and how they must feel coming to the ‘big’ school having had no transition or real time to prepare I am determined that they will have a great experience. And that means planning, planning, planning.

In devising my plan I did start with Year 11 given the pressure to get them re-engaged. We all know they have exams to sit in 10/ 11 months time. How do we prepare them? I’m a big fan of retrieval practice, consolidation and interleaving of topics. This won’t cause undue stress on pupils like the prospect of Year 11s having to sit mocks in November probably would. (Please schools I’m begging you not to do this to them – it's too soon and it's too stressful). I’m in a lucky position as I will have 3 ½ hours a week with my year 11s so time is really going to be my friend. I know not everyone is this lucky and time constraints will be a worry. Think savvy. I have planned homework assignments for my Year 11s for the whole of the next academic year using Seneca Learning - quick and easy and very effective in my experience as I can see the ‘gaps’ and address them with pupils. There are other platforms out there that you can use – you can create your own quizzes on Microsoft forms or Google. In the classroom there will be RAG exercises, knowledge quizzes, concept maps and of course exam practice. These are not new strategies but are quick and effective and will hopefully help year 11 reach the end goal of success in their GCSE examinations in 2021.

Coming back to what I said earlier – the young people are at the heart of what we do. It’s not going to be easy - but we have the skills and the expertise to help our young people in this new world. I’m no longer that pebble. Displaced. Feeling kicked around. I am empowered. And so are you.

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