There are some jobs which I look at with no envy whatsoever. Headteachers being extremely high on the list. There is always enormous responsibility with overseeing the running of a school, its staff and ensuring pupils safety and learning development.
During recent months, this responsibility, stress and time commitment has inevitably reached new levels. I spoke with Rhydyfro head teacher Mr Hodder to see how he and the school are managing.
If we go back to March, how difficult was it to close the school. It was a stressful time for everyone but I’m assuming that you have never been busier?
“Obviously at the time it was incredibly stressful. The unknown. In the past, we want children in school to socialise and to reach their full potential. To have to close the school for nearly all the children goes against everything that we stand for, but obviously understand the importance of the pandemic and having to keep everyone safe.“
Planning for home schooling, I am assuming that you couldn’t have face to face meetings with teachers, maybe not all teachers were tech-save? What did you manage to put in place?
“Some children of key workers and vulnerable children came in and that was maintained throughout, but most were at home. We had to try and incorporate technology, we used zoom for staff meetings. It was about incorporating HWB, Teams and having constant communications via email. One of our main tools was Class Dojo which was invaluable for us to communicate with parents. We ended up setting up a mixture of activities linked to the curriculum but in a practical way.
The teachers have all been excellent, we are all very lucky. The staff are all on board with the latest technologies and they can all use it effectively. It was a challenge for some of our families who didn’t have computers, so we made sure that everyone had access to a device. We sent home about 20 computers for those pupils who were digitally excluded. It was mainly to those families who needed extra devices, maybe having 2 or 3 children at home but only one laptop.“
Preparations in Rhydyfro Primary School for September
Had you put further preparations in for September, assuming that schools wouldn’t reopen to the extent that they have?
“We didn’t think that they would reopen before the Summer although I’m glad they did as those 3 weeks really helped us to prepare. I thought it would may have been 50-50 this September, with some pupils in one week and the rest the next but I am glad that we are all back. To see smiles on everyone’s faces, the children, the parents and the staff. To see everyone happy has been fantastic for me. It has shown what a difference school makes for pupils, what a difference the staff make to pupils’ lives.“
What is different in Rhydyfro Primary School now as to last September?
“We have staggered start times, staggered break times and lunches. There have been huge implications with the day to day running of the school. We have a one-way system for parents, they enter at the top gate, drop off children and then follow the signs to the bottom gate. That has an impact as we obviously had to cap the amount of people at the school gate.“
“Pupils cannot mix outside of their own class. Obviously the school has put a recovery plan and risk assessment together and everyone follows them. The cleaning regime has increased dramatically, staff and children cleaning regularly, hand sanitising. We had hygiene lessons prior but it’s obviously been greatly heightened. “
“The big difference is that if pupils do have symptoms then they need to stay at home when usually if they have a sniffle then we would still want them to attend school. I have spent the last 3 years nagging parents about attendance, but now it has flipped, we need to air on the side of caution. It is very difficult for parents to monitor, especially when you could be A-symptomatic.”
We are all concerned about a second wave and that schools may at some stage need to close once more. If we did go into a second full lockdown, what would be different about the home schooling at Rhydyfro Primary School?
“We wouldn’t do much different. I think it worked well. The feedback was really positive. We had a short questionnaire within the school and 90% of parents agreed that the level of work provided was appropriate and they were happy with the school’s engagement. We did regular check ins, messaging, class dojo etc… I don’t think that we would do too much different.
The parents have been happy and positive in the main. I’d like to thank all of the parents for their support. Also, the governors and the whole community have supported us wholeheartedly. Without this support we would not have been able to get through this. No doubt there will be further challenges but if we keep working as a team, being honest and transparent, then we should be able to keep schools open and ensure the children do not miss out on more of their education.”