As we returned to full schooling in September, we were well prepared for a considerable academic impact on the children, and a potential loss of progress, as a result of their time at home. However, this has not been the case for the majority. A combination of our comprehensive online teaching provision, and fantastic support at home from parents, has meant the pupils have not lost the academic progress that we feared they might.
This does not mean, however, that we have not put robust monitoring procedures in place. Every day, as staff deliver new content, they note and assess the level of pupil understanding. We use these assessment notes to identify what needs to be taught next and ascertain where a ‘post-teach’ session might be needed. A ‘post-teach’ session is delivered by a teacher, later in the day, to revisit a specific piece of learning that we feel needs additional work, or that reveals a gap in understanding. These sessions are entirely specific to the particular strand of learning, and can be accessed by anyone.
Daily assessment notes are then used, in conversation with previous teachers, and evidence of previous achievement, to set the MAP targets for each child. MAP targets are the level we anticipate a child would achieve at the end of the year, if they continue to work as they have been so far. These were set for all children after the first three weeks of term, once staff had seen enough work to make a fair judgement.
The work delivered in class is then differentiated to match the needs of different pupils, and teachers work from their assessment notes to establish where support is needed, and which pupils need to be stretched. At the end of each half-term, teachers use the class work, as well as their daily notes, to identify a child’s progress. They mark which strands of the curriculum are achieved, and which need more work. This data is tracked and monitored by myself and the Deputy Head; looking for unusual patterns, inconsistencies and specific subjects or pupils which need attention.
If we identify that a pupil is not making expected progress, we enhance the class provision – initially with further differentiation, and then with ‘booster’ intervention groups, where small cohorts are taken for a short session where they may work on their phonics, spelling or times tables, for example. If children have a specific learning need, they will also have sessions with Mrs Sunderland, our SENCo, who produces an individualised learning plan to support their learning in class.
Each term, I meet with each class teacher to conduct a review of pupil progress. We explore each pupils’ achievement, both over time and within the current year, and discuss how they are performing. At this stage, any concerns are escalated, additional measures are put in place to support each pupil in making the best possible progress.
Whilst the academic impact has been less than anticipated, the reality is that the emotional impact has been greater. There has been a noted increase in the number of pupils suffering with anxiety, and some have forgotten social interaction skills. Having been on their own, or only seeing siblings for so long, the normal rhythm of friendships and learning ‘how to get along’ has been disrupted. We have been acting to address this.
Each fortnight we have a pastoral care meeting where we share details about any pupils who are not entirely happy, or who are struggling socially, or where external factors are affecting them. Alongside this, we use a system called ‘Wellbeing Manager’ in which staff can quickly share worries with all the necessary individuals.
We have been actively teaching the children how to interact again. We have introduced a programme of games to play at playtime, to remind pupils of the basics of turn-taking, collaboration and compromise. We also use our weekly PSHE lessons to examine social skills and understanding, using an exceptional National scheme, called ‘One Decision’. We have deliberately increased our use of paired work in lessons to orchestrate more opportunities for cooperation and our assemblies and collective worship have focused on how we learn to support each other.
If pupils are struggling emotionally, or socially, we have a raft of measures to help. Our qualified mental health first aider, Miss Bartlett, is often the first port-of-call. Miss Bartlett can offer an initial course of 6 1-1 sessions where she works on self-awareness, self-esteem and teaching powerful self-help strategies. We also offer weekly group communication sessions for pupils at both Pre-Prep and Prep stages, following a programme called ‘Time to Talk’. Sessions in mindfulness and emotional literacy are available to support the pupils’ journey to happiness.
Teaching resilience has been critical over recent months, and we very much believe that this is at the heart of a strong, supportive foundation for mental health. Pupils need to know when to ask for help, where to find it, and how to help themselves. If we can teach this during their time in the Prep, we will have set them on the right path for their tumultuous teens.
Three months in to this new school year, with concerns about academic impact less severe than anticipated, we are now ‘holding tight’ to our pupils in order to support them through the coming months. We address their worries where they exist, and teach them how to get along with each other once again. With those skills in place, when the COVID vaccine finally frees us, we will be able to return smoothly to full social integration with the excitement that it rightly justifies.
Miss Alanda Phillips, Head of Leweston Prep