Andy Clowes, headteacher of Hey With Zion Primary school, on getting children back into classrooms

Published by Rupert Douglas on March 7th 2021, 3:03pm

Andrew Clowes writes about his experiences of dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak as the headteacher of Hey With Zion primary school located in Oldham, Lancashire. With the nation looking forward to the easing of the national lockdown Clowes is open on the issues that headteachers have faced from dealing with the government response to the anxieties of staff. He is now looking to welcome children back to the classroom. 

How will the children catch up?

I think they’ll be okay.

The general feeling among staff right now is that they are very pleased indeed that children will be back in school next week. Of course, there remain anxieties about virus transmissions, but the children need to come back and the teachers will be glad to be teaching a class in front of them again rather than setting online tasks, delivering lessons via the internet and delivering paper work-packs by hand to homes, making pastoral phone calls and the suchlike, while still keeping a check on those children who are in school.

We have all had to adapt but this was not the kind of role teachers anticipated when they took on the job.

My school has had, typically, around 30% of our children in school this lockdown, just a little above the national norm for primary schools. We have had classes of around 9 or 10 in school, with the rest receiving mostly online and some paper work at home.

We do not know yet what the academic impact of lockdown will have been for children- we will begin to find out next week. We know schools’ remote learning has been much better this time than it was in the Spring. Teachers have learned to use technology in a way that most did not know how to twelve months ago, and this will have benefits in the future.

But while I know that many of the vulnerable children and those of critical workers who have been in school this period have done excellently, really benefitting from the small class sizes, it is likely that among the others there will be a gap opened up between those who have engaged well with the home learning, and those who have not. We shall see in the coming days.

The “Catch Up Premium” is a major boost to help the children make up for any lost time. We are a fairly typical primary school, a little larger than average, and we have received £22000 so far with another £9000 pledged.

We decided to use the government’s “National Tutoring Programme” for some of this, as we have seen over time that 1:1 and small group tuition has a major impact.

This is a wonderful scheme which supplements school costs on a 3:1 ratio, so that for every pound we spend, the government spends three. Hence for £4000 to the school budget (£16000 to the taxpayer) I have four new teachers in for the next five weeks, one of whom stays for ten weeks, giving three times a week 1:1 and very small group tuition to 75 children.

It can only help.

We have also set aside £500 to support a subsidized speech and language intervention by a local theatre group- an esteemed one, which has produced a number of Coronation Street actors- and we have bought 30 extra Chromebooks so that the laptops we have loaned to families to help them access online home learning can become longer term loans without diminishing our stock in school.

A significant amount of our Catch Up Premium will remain still to be spent. This will likely be on further after school tuition to help children whose needs we have not predicted and become apparent, and extending our Saturday tuition next school year.

The sun is shining in Oldham today, and we are looking forward to school opening for all on Monday.

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Rupert Douglas
Junior Editor
March 7th 2021, 3:03pm

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