Coronavirus closures: How to support secondary pupils

For most secondary students, school is now closed. This guide offers tips to ensure they can continue their education

Grainne Hallahan

Coronavirus: How can secondary schools ensure that their students continue to learn when the school gates have shut because of coronavirus?

The majority of secondary students will now not be attending school. Continuing education for these pupils will be a huge challenge. And schools are taking very different approaches. 

For some, technology will be the key. Most schools will already have some form of online learning platform, usually to set homework, but this may not be universally used across the school by teachers. 

As such, most schools will have to adopt and learn technology quickly. 

Coping with coronavirus school closures

Lessons from international schools

As well as considering the functionality of the software, the logistics and practicalities of having students logging in from home need to be carefully weighed up, according to international schools that have already closed. 

“As a Google school, already using Google Classroom and the other associated G-Suite apps has been a real godsend,” says Oliver Ireland, assessment coordinator at the New English School in Kuwait. 

“This has also kept all school-pupil-parent contact on one platform, which helps to secure the data of all stakeholders. As of next week, many secondary classes are expanding to use Zoom video-conferencing software to deliver some of their lessons.”

As well as using Google, an anonymous leader in Italy has combined this range of software with the video-conferencing app Bluejeans.

“For Bluejeans, we have found it really useful as we can also have password-protected meetings to address any child protection concerns. We insist that students log in to classroom via school emails and we are very strict about kicking people off.

“Teachers take an initial register in the morning live via Bluejeans. The students go to Google Classroom to complete the work according to the collapsed timetables.”

We have produced a Tes guide to some of the tech available. 

The UK approach to using tech

Nick Soar, executive principal at St John's Wood and executive principal at Tottenham for the Harris Academy, in London, says before they even began to coordinate their home-learning strategy, his school leaders gathered together to scrutinise what their students would need.

“There is a mass of planning and contingency paperwork behind our strategy,” he explains. “We have lots of data on student circumstances – qualitative and quantitative. It was vital that we assessed who is at need more than others, and who is most in need.” 

What else did they need to know?

Before they made decisions about what to deliver, Soar needed to get a picture of what his staff and students would have access to at home.

“We conducted a rapid audit of staff internet access, and then separately checked which students had laptop and wi-fi access.”

But what did Soar do with this information?

It meant they could take steps before closures were announced to ensure their home learning plan could be rolled out.

“We looked at the results of our checks, and as a consequence we took the decision to purchase mobile phones for staff, and wi-fi dongles for students in need.”

What exactly should online learning look like?

Louise Lewis, research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school, has created schemes of work around key topics.

“We are providing students with lesson sequences that include: lesson title, specification reference, link to online resources, link to an online video from YouTube (eg, FreeScienceLessons).

“Online resources will include access to online textbooks (which will be emailed to students), plus assignments set via Seneca, which we can remotely monitor and assess progress. 

“We have had conversations with students to clearly identify who does and doesn't have access to tech, and they will be provided with printed packs of the above.”

Non-tech options

Not all schools will want students to be reliant on online resources, and some are eschewing web-based solutions for more old-school methods.

Lewis Fenn-Griffen, of Saint Benedict school in Derby, believes this approach will ensure that the majority of students will be able to carry on their studies.

All of the plans have been made with the assumption that there will be limited data or online access, and that the work for students to complete will all be done offline.

“We won't be using video conferencing,” he explains. “It isn’t something we currently do, and we think this would lead to frustration from students who cannot get it to work.”

Instead, each teacher will set work each time they are due to teach a class. The work will be short, specific and accessible. No long-term projects.

Departments have met to work out the kind of work they will set within the parameters he has given them. PE, for example, will be setting physical activity that can be done indoors using baked bean tins, staircases, etc – so that students still maintain physical activity.

The tasks will be set over email, and students can complete those tasks however they can. 

If you are looking for well-sequenced, easily usable packs of materials that can be printed at schools and given out, your best option might be the Ark Mastery booklets, all of which have been made freely available to all schools in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Their curriculum design experts have created four weeks of sequenced units for students to work through in English and maths from Reception up to Year 9. All are here to download and print

Communication plans

Closing schools for this length of time means that your daily communication with staff will be strained. This is especially difficult given the anticipated high rate of staff absence, and the expected pressures on teachers of looking after their young children who are home from school.

Diktats from above will probably not be warmly received, instead, Soar suggests working together to agree a set of rules.

“When you decide on the parameters, you should involve the full diverse range of teachers and leaders so you can get proper ideas of what is needed,” he says. 

At his school, staff agreed a set of rules to follow, including times when they would be available by phone or email, flexibility for staff who would be dealing with childcare, and how meetings should be arranged. 

One key thing was that staff safety was still preserved through the use of a staff absence line for any teacher who became unwell during the closure.

Meanwhile, Kirsty Grundy, a principal from Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust, says her schools are already preparing to turn to Microsoft Teams for weekly staff briefings and updates, as well as to continue with weekly CPD sessions in this format.

“The secondary schools in the Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust also have their own contingency plan involving Office 365 alongside Teams to conduct daily live lessons and follow-up work, and we have already tested this to see if it works.”

One international school headteacher says her school has been holding virtual meetings and even online “coffee breaks” to help staff to retain a sense of community when working remotely.

“We set up Google Drive and Docs to collaboratively work and we have just set up a virtual coffee break and an afternoon group exercise session,” she explains. 

“We've also had to deal with trying to communicate correctly and in a timely fashion with staff by translating and interpreting the decrees from the Italian government. I think that this has been particularly stressful for international teachers.”

How will you keep in touch with parents?

During this time of uncertainty, you cannot allow parent communication channels to close.

“Comms is hugely important and it is crucial you model it well to staff and early as you can,” says Soar. “You need short, simple, clear messages.”

But that’s not as simple as it sounds. How do you get those messages out in a way for all parents to understand? The answer lies within your staff.

“Find the person on your staff who can do graphic design and even if they have had a minor role in the past they are now critical in the message management,” says Soar. “Make them important and make them feel important.”

Rather than sticking to one method of communication, Soar suggests mixing it up in order to reach all your parents.

He recommends physical letters and emails sent to inboxes and then also sent out as JPEGs in texts.

What matters, says Soar, is making sure that all parents are hearing your messages.

Closure plans

How do you actually close a school? Check out our guide for leaders on the steps they need to ensure they take to safely close their setting.

Safeguarding concerns

For a detailed breakdown of key safeguarding concerns that teachers need to consider during this period, check out this guide.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan is Tes recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes

Find me on Twitter @heymrshallahan

Latest stories

Classroom humour: Teacher pranks that annoy pupils

10 teacher pranks that annoy pupils

From referring to 'InstaChat' to telling tall stories, here are some of the ways staff give themselves a laugh in class
Dave Speck 17 May 2021
Woman, squeezed into cardboard box

Why I can't stand set lesson plans

Any one-size-fits-all structure imposed on classroom teachers risks removing the joy from learning, says Megan Mansworth
Megan Mansworth 17 May 2021