Schools and Coronavirus UK: Key Questions & Advice

Schools and Coronavirus

Public Health England’s (PHE) current advice is for schools to stay open unless there is a positive case. But families have already begun to take young children out of nurseries and schools over coronavirus fears. Parents in the UK have begun pulling children out of nurseries and schools as Coronavirus continues to spread. A widespread shutdown of nurseries would leave families with significant childcare issues – but it could also force some nurseries to close for good as a result of financial pressures, nursery leaders have said. For primary and secondary schools Coronavirus continues to disrupt preparations for GCSEs, A-levels and Sats as more schools are shutting as the virus spreads among the population.

Key Question: How do you mark down student absence?

Some counties have sent out advice for schools, stating that schools should be recording students who have been self-isolated by a medical professional with a ‘Y’ and not expecting staff to do home visits (‘Y’ is for exceptional circumstances, see page 13 in the government guidelines). The problem here is that the advice seems inconsistent in each county.  It also does not cover students who are choosing to self-isolate for fear of contamination. More guidance on the recording of absence, and how we verify children are self-isolating for medical reasons is required urgently.

Things to consider

So what can we do? Can we prepare for this? This is such a challenging for education with a such vanguard issue. But the following five things may help:

  • Ensure we have structured work set daily
    We need to ensure that work is accessible for all students, even those without appropriate IT.  Work can be used as a distraction or escape if they are stuck in their room.
  • Keep in contact
    Safeguarding teams need to agree a rota of contact with students of concern, which should mean students contacting them, and them contacting students.  Students can also be given support contact details like Childline and the Samaritans.
  • Staff training
    Staff still need to think about safeguarding even if they are only contacting students via emails, but clear guidance needs to be given by the safeguarding team on what staff do with any concerns. On-line referral systems like CPOMS and MyConcern come into their element with situations like these.
  • Be mindful of data protection
    Safeguarding teams need to make sure that they have access to students information and contact details of outside agencies, even if they are not in schools. Data protection, though, needs to be considered. If we are expecting the safeguarding team to phone from home, how are we protecting their number and reimbursing them?
  • Keep communication lines open between staff
    Safeguarding teams need to make sure that they are still communicating and sharing with each other and their line managers. Isolation can make matters worse for staff and for the child and is not good safeguarding practice.

How to keep teaching A-level, GCSE and other classes if your school is closed

Coronavirus has already caused the closure of schools across the world and it may be that even more schools will have to close in the coming months. What can you do to ensure education – particularly for students due to take their Sats, GCSEs, A levels, IB or other exams – continues? The key is not to panic and instead consider how you can continue to engage with students and help them learn, irrespective of external factors.

1. Cloud tools

There are many online tools that allow teachers to engage with students remotely and that should be incorporated into teaching life so they can be used quickly and confidently, whatever external circumstances are affecting a school. For example,

  • Google Meet can be used to check attendance, while Google Classroom lets you upload resources, set deadlines, allows students to turn in work they have done and, importantly, lets you mark it and send back the corrections, allowing you to ensure that they have studied the topic.
  • You can also set exam questions and correct them (good for exam focus) using platforms such as Edpuzzle. In terms of assessment, Edpuzzle is especially useful, since you can ask questions throughout and require students to send answers back to you.
  • Microsoft Office 365 is often available to teachers. It allows you to set up classes on Teams and to use OneNote to assign classwork to students. When they complete the assignment, you can mark it on the same document, too.
2. Go over familiar ground 

If the disruption is fairly short in length, you can probably focus more on reinforcing and consolidating previous knowledge and concepts. That way, since they have already studied these topics, students feel more confident to work independently. Again, using technology tools can help here as you can set quizzes and mark them, and provide feedback as if in a classroom. Such tools also enable teachers to spot students who are struggling in certain areas, or those that could be pushed further – just as you would in the classroom.

3. Start exploring flipped learning 

However, if the disruption is likely to last a long time and you have to start covering new content on a syllabus, flipped learning is a great way to do this.

First, prioritise which units or topics would need to be taught in class and which ones could be learned independently. Then choose websites carefully, in which explanations are well given and examples and exercises are clear. There are many websites, and especially videos on YouTube, that can help to teach students and encourage them to gain independence.

4. Practise using these tools before they are needed

Familiarise yourself and your students with the above three points. Including the tools that you may use and the types of content they may be asked to learn independently. Practicing these strategies means that if in the event that your school closes you and your students will be able to draw upon your experiences and continue learning.

For more information TES has a live blog where you can find the latest advice from the government here and the latest advice from the World Health Organisation here

In the coming weeks and months, the importance of compassion and empathy will certainly be at the fore. As educators it is our role to ensure that our students are well informed, well equipped and well prepared whilst maintaining a sense of compassion and empathy throughout.

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