Showing posts with label covid-19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label covid-19. Show all posts

Monday, 28 December 2020

My Corona: A Christmas with Covid

As the 18th of December drew closer, the fear inside me grew: what if we had to send a bubble, or more than one, home in those last few days of the school term? What if holidays were going to be ruined by isolation for scores of children and staff?

There was a selfish fear too, of course: what if I come into contact with someone who tests positive and have to isolate? Or what if one of my own children gets sent home from their school?

My fears were, inevitably, pretty quickly realised: my middle daughter came home on the penultimate Friday, destined to self-isolate until Friday 18th. But that didn’t touch Christmas, but it meant a huge burden on my wife, working at home fulfilling Christmas baking orders. I hurried back from school every day in order to try to provide some relief. Every day, that is, until Thursday.

Because, of course, it was the unthinkable that actually happened.

Rewind to Wednesday night:

Wednesday night was a tough one: I had an inexplicable pain across my lower back – I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and, along with the accompanying nausea, it kept me awake most of the night.

I ‘woke up’ the next day feeling slightly unwell, in my own words. Thursday was to be the last day in school, and not thinking that back ache and tiredness should stop me from enjoying the last day of school, off I went.

Thankfully, I spent the day ensuring, as usual, that I was social distancing, was in well-ventilated places, keeping my hands washed regularly and so on. The day was a great way to end what had been a fantastic term – yes, a challenging one, but a challenge I had relished. I was glad to leave by the end though, as, due to a lack of sleep, or so I thought, I was flagging somewhat.

At home I caught up a little with the DfE’s newly-revealed plans to ask secondary schools to test pupils as of January. I fired off a quick commiseration email to our principal (I work in an all-through academy) and thought I’d forget about it. With one more work-from-home morning left to go, I retired to bed that night, although not before a heated discussion with my wife regarding whether or not I should get a Covid test: when my symptoms are definitely those of Covid, was my stance; tomorrow, regardless, was hers – so that we knew for certain whether or not our Christmas plans would be affected.

But my subconscious brain clung on to the evening’s thoughts, weaponising them and torturing me all night. I dreamt of having to set up a testing centre at school – one of those looped dreams consisting of bright colours (the testing booths were decorated with red and white Christmas string), repeated phrases and nothing at all very tangible other than the feeling of dread. I woke at 4:10 am and headed downstairs to book myself a Covid test, the fever being such that the virus was becoming a more certain possibility.

***

Just before lunchtime on Sunday the test result came back. I’d all but convinced myself it would be negative, mainly on account of an easing temperature and the presence of phlegm: it was a chest infection, it must be.

Dear Aidan Severs

Your coronavirus test result is positive. It means you had the virus when the test was done.

I went downstairs to break the news. By now, of course, the rules for Christmas had changed, all our plans involved people now marooned in tier 4, so my corona was not going to be the cause of spoiled Christmas plans. However, there were plenty of other consequences.

I have to admit I cried. Many times. Everything set me off. The thought of potentially ruining so many other Christmases. The fact my wife had to cancel and refund all her Christmas orders. Knowing my mother-in-law, who is in our bubble, would not be able to spend Christmas with us meaning that she may face it alone. The knowledge that my children, who have soldiered on through the country’s toughest restrictions, living as we do in Bradford, and not even an area of Bradford that got out of local lockdown for a while, would have to endure more time indoors with only each other as company. Heightened emotions may be a symptom – then again, its legitimate for it to be that upsetting without that as an excuse.

I completed my Test and Trace information, and the academy’s counterpart. Thankfully it was deemed unnecessary to ask anyone else to isolate, due to the mitigations in place and my keeping to them. That was a weight off my mind, although I spent each day of the holiday waiting to hear that someone else from work had come down with it because of me. At the time of writing, I have heard only of one very tentative transmission, and am hoping that when I speak to my colleagues again in the new year, all will report a healthy Christmas holiday.

And the thing just left me weak, wheezy and a waste of space. Unable to go out, incapable of doing anything of any value. I par-watched a film, and an episode of a series. Reading, writing, music had very little draw – besides the initial headache that came with my Covid prohibited these activities. I slept on and off. I mostly just felt guilty – I know it wasn’t my fault - and sad that my wife was having to take on everything. My muscles ached, my skin felt like it was on fire, my head felt like it was sunburnt.

At some point, it robbed me of my sense of smell, leaving me with only a partial sense of taste. All that Christmas food! Would I be able to taste it? That was if I even had the appetite for it – usually ravenous the whole time, I certainly experienced some fluctuation in my desire to eat.

It felt unfair. We’d stuck to all the rules. I’d survived the term, always being there at work, covering when others thought they might have had it, or indeed, when others did have it, plugging away finding never-ending solutions to all the latest Covid problems. We’d ridden wave after wave of the UK’s harshest restrictions, very rarely losing hope.

Even after a week, I was still dog tired. I woke up on the 23rd feeling a bit brighter, a little more energised, but as the day wore on, that wore off. If there’s one thing this virus does well, it’s robbing its host of their vitality. Perhaps the exhaustion was due to my body fighting of the illness effectively enough for me to remain at home, instead of being hospitalised? I suppose if that was the case, then I am thankful for the tiredness.

Of course, friends and family rallied round. Many a kind message was received, people picked stuff up for us, dropped it off. Entertainment for me and the children was sent. My wife did a cracking job of keeping the morale high despite everything.

Christmas Eve was merry – I was feeling a lot better and managed to join in with all the day’s activities – still inside the house, isolating of course. Just before we headed out for a drive around to look at the Christmas lights loads of my family members came to the street and sang to us – a lovely, heart-warming moment, and a chance to sample some of my dad’s Covid Carols live! But we weren’t only going to see the Christmas lights, we also made a second trip to the test centre: my wife had begun with a cough -  a cough which by now was plaguing me to the point of perceived pain in my lungs.

And on Christmas morning, whilst preparing the meal, her text came through: positive.

And the so the saga continues. Thankfully by Sunday 27th (my official release date) I was feeling normal enough again to do a decent job of having a good time with the children, feeding the family and keeping the house in some sort of semblance of order. I took the kids out for a brief walk in the woods and it did us good. At the time of posting, my wife is still ill in bed, experiencing her version of all the symptoms I had.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

What The Headlines Didn't Tell You About Ofsted's Latest Covid-19 Report

Ofsted published a new report about the impact of Covid-19on education and here’s what you know: kids are back in nappies, they eat food with their fingers and they’ve played too many online games and are now falling out about it.

Here’s what, if you haven’t read the full report, you probably don’t yet know: some children have been more exposed to domestic violence, there has been a rise in self-harm and some children have become more involved in crime. But those are just some of the most concerning, negative outcomes of the pandemic for some young people.

Here’s what else you might not know, according to Ofsted: the vast majority of children have settled back into school, are being taught a broad curriculum and leaders and teachers are doing an excellent job of adapting necessarily with positive results.

But that sort of stuff does not a headline make, does it?

Wellbeing

When it comes to wellbeing of pupils, the report is clear: ‘leaders said that their pupils were generally happy to be back, and had settled in well.’

The report also records that ‘leaders in most schools continued to report that pupils were happy to be back. Pupils were described as confident, resilient, calm and eager to learn. There was a general sense that they appreciate school and each other more. Many leaders noticed that behaviour has generally improved… Many emphasised that fewer pupils were needing additional support than had been anticipated.’

Imagine the headlines we could have had: Pupils return to school with confidence and resilience! Children eager to learn as they get back to school! Students defy expectations in calm return to education!

In addition, Ofsted identify that schools are going above and beyond in their response to ensure that pupils are happy and able to deal with the changes the pandemic has brought: ‘Many schools of all types reported a greater focus than usual on their personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum to develop aspects such as resilience and independence and to reinforce or improve learning behaviours, but also to address pupils’ anxieties. Some schools were also strengthening their PE provision to support pupils’ physical and mental well-being.’

And it’s not only children who have got back to school and got on with doing a great job, it’s the staff too, according to the report: ‘Leaders said that their staff have generally adapted well to various changes, and are working hard to make these work. They attributed this to frequent and effective communication with staff as well as to a stronger sense of team spirit that has emerged over the last few months.’

Further potential headlines for your delectation: School staff working hard to adapt to changes! Strong sense of team spirit seen in schools!

And perhaps being at home hasn’t been such a bad thing for children anyway; perhaps it isn’t just the fact that they are finally back at school which has made for such positive changes: ‘Many leaders spoke positively about pupils with SEND returning to school. In a couple of schools, leaders noted that additional time spent at home had been positive for pupils with SEND, who had returned with confidence.’

Attendance

One of the fears of school leaders in the summer was most certainly around what attendance would look like come September. Fears have been allayed, according to Ofsted’s report: ‘Around three quarters of the schools visited reported having attendance that was similar to, or higher than, this time last year… where attendance had improved, leaders often attributed this to the work that they had done to build families’ trust during the first national lockdown, and their continued efforts to inform and reassure parents about the arrangements they had made to keep pupils safe in school.’

More headlines: Home-school relationships improve: attendance rises! 2020 Attendance higher than ever!

And Ofsted even acknowledge just how thoughtful and flexible school leaders are being in their commitment to children: ‘Leaders described how they were working closely with parents and offering flexible arrangements if these were needed to help pupils to return as soon as possible.’

Curriculum and Remote Learning

Much was said during lockdown regarding ‘gaps’ that would appear in learning. I’m sure many school leaders considered whether or not to slim down their curriculum, providing what might amount to an insubstantial education which did not develop the whole child.

However, what Ofsted have seen is that leaders are ambitious to return their schools to their usual full curriculum as soon as possible, that most of the secondary schools were teaching all their usual subjects and that many of the primary schools they visited were teaching all subjects.

Another favourite subject of lockdown discussion and thought was remote learning. Public figures weighed in with their ideas, as did parents, teachers and students. Would schools be able to truly provide remote education to a suitable standard?

Well, Ofsted have found that ‘almost all schools were either providing remote learning to pupils who were self-isolating or said that they were ready to do so if needed’ and that most schools ‘were monitoring pupils’ access to the work provided or attendance at the remote lesson.’

They also report that leaders are responding well to their findings, particularly that ‘during the first national lockdown, pupils reacted very positively when there was live contact from teachers, so want to build on that when needed.’

And again, leaders are adapting well to the new circumstances, thinking outside of the box and ensuring that staff wellbeing is a priority: ‘Leaders in a few schools explained how they were trying to mitigate the additional demands on staff of providing remote learning, for example through the help of teaching assistants, or having staff who took a particular role in leading or modelling remote education.’

A further possible headline: Schools found to be providing full curriculum and good remote learning!

CPD

Remember how teachers were all lazy during lockdown and should have been back at work? Well, turns out, they were actually working really hard (surprise, surprise), not only providing aforementioned remote learning but also taking the opportunity to sharpen their skills en masse: ‘staff in many schools seized the opportunity for training and development during the months when most pupils were not physically in school.’

Now that certainly won’t make the headlines: Teachers work hard despite perception of journalists!

Learning ‘Loss’

And finally to the big one: have children fallen behind? Are their gaps in their learning? Academically, has Covid-19 set children behind where they should be?

Well, much is said in the report regarding this, however a key takeaway should certainly be the following:

‘In the mainstream schools visited, there was no real consensus about the extent of pupils’ learning loss as a result of the disruption to their education.’

Correct headline: No consensus on Covid learning loss!

This is where the main criticism of the report might come: it is written in such a way that the negative is the focus.

For example, the report makes it clear that some leaders commented that writing was also an issue for some pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting.’ And it is this that then hits the headlines, with the ‘some’ removed, of course. Such a statement becomes ‘Children forget how to write during lockdown’ when it is headlinified.

Indeed, the inverse statement surely is equally as true: ‘Most leaders commented that writing wasn’t an issue for most pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting’ or even ‘Most leaders didn’t comment on writing being an issue for most children.’

Yes, it is right for schools to identify the negative impact of the pandemic so as to make progress with children who have been affected, but at the same time the positive impacts and the huge amount of work that has already been done in this vein should surely be celebrated more widely.

Not just for the benefit of hardworking school staff either – as a parent I want to be reassured by both Ofsted and the media that schools are doing a great job with my children. Thankfully, I don’t have to rely on them to form my opinion: I know for certain my children’s school is doing a fantastic job, and I know the school I work in is too.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Back to School: Recovery or Catch Up?

Recovery.

We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about recovery with regards to the curriculum we teach when schools can eventually reopen to all children.

But the question must be asked, what are we trying to recover?

Are we trying to re-cover past material to ensure that it is secure? Are we trying to recover normality and perhaps just try to ignore this blip? Are we trying to help staff and children to recover mentally from the upheaval - similar to how a hospital patient might need to recover? Are we talking of something akin to roadside recovery where we fix a problem and send them on their way, give them a tow to get them to a destination or just give them a jump start?

Maybe we need to attempt to do all of these and more.

But the recent talk of ‘catch up’ does not help us to do any of the above.

When we normally think of catch up we think of small groups of children taking part in an intensive burst of input over a short amount of time - indeed, research shows that this is exactly how catch up interventions should be run so that they have maximum impact.

Can this be replicated for whole classes of children, some of whom will have been doing very little at home, others of whom may have followed all the home learning set and really prospered from that? We certainly need, as ever, an individualised, responsive approach for each child, but it is fairly certain that when we are all back in school we will be ‘behind’ where we normally would be, even if it means everyone is equally behind.

It would be foolish to think that by the end of the first term we will have caught up and will be able to continue as we were back in February and March. To believe this surely puts us on very shaky ground. Any kind of intensive approach to recovery is almost certain to negative repercussions, not least where children’s well-being is concerned - and that of staff, for that matter.

Year after year we hear stories from teachers escaping toxic schools and even leaving the profession who speak out on the hothousing, cramming, cheating, off-rolling, flattening the grass, and other morally bankrupt practices that go on in schools in the name of ‘getting good results’.

Well, back to my question: what are we trying to recover? How do we define ‘good results’? What result are we wanting from that first term back? That second term back? That third term?

How long are we willing to give this? We don’t know how long this will impact learning for - we’ve never had a period this long without children learning in classrooms. Perhaps it will barely leave a mark academically, perhaps the effects of it will be with us for years? Maybe we are overstating the potential impact on mental health and once we are back everyone will just be happy to be there, but maybe it will effect some of us for a good while yet.

What’s for sure, at least in my mind, is that we need a slow, blended approach to recovery. We must focus on the academic but we must not neglect everything else - bear in mind that phrase ‘the whole child’ and extend that to ‘the whole person’ so that it takes in all the people who will be working in schools when we can finally open properly to all.

We can not revert back to a system cowed by accountability - arranged around statutory assessment. Maybe they will scrap SATS this year, or edit the content that children will be tested on. Then again, maybe they won’t. Either way, schools - leaders and teachers - need to be brave enough to stand up for what is right for their children.

Ideally, we’d have an education department who, instead of telling us that modelling and feedback are the ideal way to teach, were willing to consult the profession in order to create a system-wide interim framework. A slimmed-down curriculum outlining the essentials and cutting some of the extraneous stuff from the Maths and English curriculum. Many schools are doing this piece of work so it would make sense if we were all singing off the same hymn sheet. If this was provided by the DfE then any statutory tests could be adapted accordingly - but this is the bluest of blue sky thinking.

And in suggesting that we limit the core subject curricula, I am certainly not suggesting that the whole curriculum is narrowed. Children will need the depth and breadth more than ever. We mustn’t let all the gained ground in terms of the wider curriculum be lost. We need the arts - I surely don’t even need to remind of the mental health benefits of partaking in creative endeavours. History and Geography learning is equally as valid (especially as they are the most interesting and captivating parts of the curriculum - fact): these must not fall victim to a curriculum narrowing which focuses solely on getting to children to ‘where they should’ be in Maths and English.

Who is to say, in 2020/2021, Post-Covid19, where a child ‘should be’? Perhaps we need to define this, or perhaps it’s not something we can even put our finger on.

I’m sure that if Lord Adonis read this I’d run the risk of becoming another of his apologists for failure, but that’s not what I am. What I am is an optimistic realist who wants the best for the children returning to our schools and the staff teaching them. What I am is someone who has observed the UK education system over a number of years and have seen schools who really run the risk of falling for rhetoric and accountability that leads to practice which does not best serve their key stakeholders. What I am is someone who is committed to getting all children back to school, back to work even, as quickly as is safely possible. I am a leader who is committed to the highest of standards but who won’t take shortcuts to get there.

When it comes to success(ful recovery) there are no shortcuts.

Some important other reads:

http://daisi.education/learning-loss/ - Learning Loss from Daisi Education (Data, Analysis & Insight for School Improvement)

https://www.adoptionuk.org/blog/the-myth-of-catching-up-after-covid-19 - The myth of ‘catching up’ after Covid-19 by Rebecca Brooks of Adoption UK

https://researchschool.org.uk/unity/news/canaries-down-the-coalmine-what-next-for-pupil-premium-strategy/ - Canaries Down the Coalmine: What Next for Pupil Premium Strategy? by Marc Rowland - Unity Pupil Premium Adviser

Friday, 22 May 2020

What will we do to best support the mental and emotional wellbeing of children on the reopening of schools?


My colleague Yasemin Cevik asked me to join this Teachmeet but unfortunately I had to decline her offer. Instead I wrote a quick answer to the question that is up for debate. I tried to take one particular angle, expecting that other speakers would pick up on other aspects of the answer to this question. It's about Bradford but it goes for all children:

“What will we do to best support the mental and emotional wellbeing of Bradford’s children on the reopening of schools?”

I think the key word here is ‘best’ as it acknowledges that there is no perfect way to do this – we can only do our best. As teachers we often strive for perfection – it’s because we care so much – but perfection is unattainable.

That sounds pretty pessimistic but if we want mental and emotional wellbeing for Bradford’s children then we need to pay a lot of mind to the mental and emotional wellbeing of Bradford’s education workers.

‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’, goes the saying. And it is true for this situation that we find ourselves in. Teachers who are striving for perfection and setting themselves unattainable goals are not going to experience good mental and emotional wellbeing. And, once we have more children back in (the word ‘reopening’ is incorrect – we have been open the whole time), teachers, co-teachers, leaders and other school staff are going to need to be emotionally strong and resilient so that the children have the chance of experiencing the same.

Yes, there are plenty of things we can do directly for the children: a Recovery Curriculum, as written about by Barry Carpenter (1), covers most of what school staff need to think about in terms of emotional wellbeing, and we must take care of all the logistics of keeping the school a safe place to be so as to curb the spread of virus (2). But in doing all of these things, the school staff who are responding to this unprecedented situation put their own mental health on the line.

This must be a key concern for school leaders, and for those who wish to be a supportive colleague regardless of their position. We are all in this together and everyone involved will need support. Headteachers will benefit from an appreciative word from a recently qualified teacher. Regular check-ins from a more experienced teacher will be essential for trainee teachers. Mentors and coaches will need to cast aside their regular agenda in order to focus on how their mentees and coaches are coping with the changes in policy and practice. A little encouraging message from colleagues will be a balm to the soul of members of SLT, working away in the background on the nitty gritty of wider opening.

My point is this: we can all help each other to weather this storm and as we help each other, we will be best placed to help the children. Kindness is essential at this time. Yes, kindness to ourselves – get your sleep, eat well (but don’t forgo all treats), exercise, watch your favourite series, get outside, keep in touch with family – but kindness to each other, too.

Empathy will be key. Never suppose you know how someone is feeling – although we are experiencing the same pandemic, we are not all experiencing the pandemic in the same way. Take the time to find out how people have felt during all its different stages, and make sure you know where they’re at presently. Don’t assume to know based on your own experience. This goes for staff and for children.

Much of the time when we open schools to more children should be spent in this exploratory manner. With adults it might be more obvious, with children it could be more subtle. Make time for discussions which allow children to air their views – do this in different group sizes, or 1-to-1 if necessary. Allow your story reading to flow into conversations about how the characters’ experiences mirror the children’s own thoughts and feelings. Make time for collaborative activities (they can still be socially distanced if you want to go for that), team quizzes and games and other activities where children connect with one another mentally and emotionally. Whatever the activity, allow people the chance to share, and be sensitive to their needs as they do.

We can best support the mental and emotional wellbeing of Bradford’s children on the reopening of schools by taking care of the members of staff who will be taking care of them and by knowing and taking into account of each individual’s experience of the last couple of months. Empathy and kindness will be king upon wider opening – any school who attempts anything other than this will take a hit in the years to come, both in staff and pupil wellbeing.
______________________________________________________________________________

1. Carpenter, R: A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and life for our children and schools post pandemic (https://www.ssatuk.co.uk/blog/a-recovery-curriculum-loss-and-life-for-our-children-and-schools-post-pandemic/)
2. Gov.uk: Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-protective-measures-in-education-and-childcare-settings)

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Why We Cancelled Our School Residential

Written before the announcement that schools will close to children other than those of key workers. I have also just heard that the council made the call to close the residential centre this afternoon, too.

And what if a child begins to display symptoms of COVID-19 in the middle of the night? I asked myself as I added to my risk assessment for our very imminent residential visit. I’d already imagined a scenario in which we didn’t have enough staff or children on the morning we were due to leave to make the visit viable.

At first the night time scenario seemed like the worst thing that could happen. But then I began to consider what would happen if a child or member of staff began to show symptoms during the day.
A member of staff would have to contact me, wherever I was: down a cave, climbing a gully, trekking though the Dales. Mobile phone reception isn’t exactly forthcoming out in the wilds of North Yorkshire.

I’d have to contact the school – with the same complications as above - who would then need to contact parents. Then what would happen? Would we ask parents to come and collect? Or should I ask the member of staff who had brought a car to take them home? But what if it was more than one child? Should I actually be taking the school minibus so that I could return poorly children to school as quickly as possible?

And what if it was members of staff who came down with something? Would we be left with insufficient ratios to really safeguard the children on an outward bound adventure holiday? Would we call on other staff from school to join us? But what if school had begun to experience staff absences? I didn’t even consider what might have to happen if I – the one who had spent endless hours planning the visit – got ill. Did anyone else know enough about the ins and outs of the residential to be able to run it in my absence?

So many questions. No encouraging answers. In my mind I came to the conclusion that if a child or adult developed a dry cough or a high temperature, I’d have to get them home as quickly as possible, followed swiftly by the rest of the children. If one child had it, then how many others might have been infected during the stay?

The evening after completing a risk assessment which had led me to believe that actually, this residential was quite a risk – one I was not happy to shoulder the burden of, the government upped the ante with their advice. The words ‘non-essential’ were used several times. Although I totally believe in the importance of such an experience for children living in the city, I was pretty sure it fell into the ‘non-essential’ category.

Sir, is the residential still on? I was asked by eager children the following morning. They were aware of the fragility of the chance of it going ahead. I had to give disappointingly non-committal answers – I didn’t want to cause undue upset. I was asked the same question by parents on the gate – some of whom wanted to know when they should start packing, others expressed their own concerns.
But I had found myself at a standstill. I thought I should cancel the trip, but that would risk a financial loss to the school. Should I wait for the venue to cancel, or should I go ahead? I spoke to the deputy of another school who were going to the same venue as us during the same week – he was in the same position.

I came clean with the manager of the venue: we were worried about the risks but didn’t want to lose the money – he was honest with me: they too were waiting for further guidance on school closure as to whether they were going to cancel forthcoming visits. I broached the subject of a postponement and requested potential dates for next academic year for the same cohort of children.

The happy ending to this story is that our trust’s early start date in August meant that we could find an early September slot that no other school would be able to take. All being well, the children will get to experience the great outdoors together for three days, albeit in six months’ time. We are all disappointed that although schools remain open, we won’t get our residential this year but safety comes first. A decision which puts the health and wellbeing of children and staff first is the best decision.