Warrington Primary Academy Trust has quickly developed an online learning approach to ensure that its children can continue their learning during the coronavirus crisis.
We have gone with an IT solution in all of our six schools. We reviewed our infrastructure, what IT equipment individual families had and decided that as we have a Microsoft platform we would use Microsoft Office Teams for a “virtual school” approach.
The schools all carried out an audit of what IT equipment and broadband links parents and carers had at home and we then allocated children who needed them laptops and iPads with wi-fi dongles if required.
The main focus will be key stage 2 children for the moment. All key stage 2 children will have access to live streamed lessons, starting with a one-hour maths and a one-hour English session each morning, with a 30-minute break in between.
Headteachers have already done model lessons. It will be very different from a classroom lesson. We can’t expect staff to talk for a whole hour at a time. With live streaming we can give the children a chance to feed back.
A trial run through of the streaming approach was done with children at WPAT schools on Friday, March 20, before all schools were officially closed for the vast majority of children later that day. There has been anxiety from some staff but we are all feeling really excited by it.
The focus of the live streamed lessons will be on the interactive whiteboard with the teacher audible but out of shot. Key lesson topics will be scaffolded on the whiteboard and children will explore their learning further through worksheets and homework which have been available on their school website.
All 350 teaching staff across the trust had a training session last week with an external provider to bring them up-to-speed with the platform and the approach to lessons.
Staff are delivering the lessons from home if they are well and able, or at school alongside their caring and teaching responsibilities for the children of some key workers and vulnerable children. All staff have had their home equipment audited and provided with additional equipment such as webcams and microphones if they needed them.
Meanwhile, key stage 1 teachers have also received training on Microsoft Teams and there are plans to expand online learning to include short phonics sessions for their pupils.
We are doing something really new here in very difficult circumstances at very short notice so we will be working together to make it happen.
We may be closed for three months, perhaps longer because we do not know what we are dealing with here. We cannot lose learning for three months, so we have to try a different approach.
We think if we get this right this is going to change how we are going to teach in the future. If we get this right in terms of online streaming what’s to say that if children can’t come into school in the future that they can’t simply log on to get the basics?
Our engagement with parents could be transformed as well. Some of our parents are in very deprived areas. They will have high quality teaching in their homes, and they will understand that and see that.
We have also opted for a low marking solution for teachers to reduce workload. We will not be attempting to mark everything and will do simple marking, selecting the work of one or two pupils and giving feedback, talking about common mistakes and getting the children to mark their own work in the light of these examples.
The WPAT team will also be trying to recreate other aspects of school life online; for example, there are plans to deliver a school assembly through Microsoft Teams.
I know this is a dreadful time for us all, but it is also important to try to get something positive out of this and see it as an opportunity to change some of our working practices. It’s about being brave and leading the way.