A Thought Piece by Sarah White 2 April 2020

We’ve been inspired by the dedication and hard work of our staff right across the trust during this challenging time, as they work tirelessly both in their academies and from home to support our pupils and academy communities.

Over the coming weeks, we will be shining a light on some of the excellent work that is taking place within the trust, by catching up with staff working from home and in academy.

This week, we speak to Sarah White, Assistant Headteacher about how staff are working at Blackley E-ACT Academy in Manchester.

This is a huge change for pupils and staff. How has the academy dealt with it?

It certainly is a big change. There has been so much to think about and plan, but we have been well prepared for this for some weeks now. We’ve got clear plans in place for virtual learning and learning within the academy.

Our team have been amazing, I’m overwhelmed by how supportive and fantastic they have been. I popped in to see how everyone was getting on with the new set-up in the academy last week and everyone was working together. I spotted our Year 5 teacher, Sean Greenhow, who wasn’t due to be in but had decided to come and help out – that’s the sort of teamwork you see at Blackley.

How many pupils are still needing to come in to the academy? 

The numbers have gone down as time has gone on. I think with everything being shared about how parents should keep their children home if they can, lots of parents moved things around to do that.

Can you tell us a bit about the set-up for children of key workers and other pupils still attending the academy? 

Pupils have maths and English provision in the morning, followed by activities like early mark-making or handwriting and Times Tables Rock Stars. After lunch, we’ve got a range of sessions on offer – from cooking to sports and coding. We’ve tried to make the afternoon relaxed, giving children choices. We finish the day with story-time.

We’ve really had to think about keeping everything as clean as possible. We opted for iPads for each child to use in the morning as they’re easy to wipe down, and all staff are cleaning everything that children have touched or used with antibacterial spray.

We have to be careful with social distancing, reminding pupils to stay two metres apart indoors. We have each pupil sitting on a separate table that would usually seat six pupils. We do a morning briefing with the pupils to explain everything to them and make it very clear that they need to try and keep their distance.

Blackley has a high percentage of pupils that are eligible for free school meals. How are you supporting those pupils during this time?

We have grab-and-go lunch packs ready each morning, as well as sandwiches for children accessing the provision on site. Matthew, our attendance lead, has been contacting parents and giving each family a timeslot for collection.

We’re here to support our community, so we have also decided to start a food bank in the staff room. Many of our parents might need a little extra support in the coming weeks. We recently held a non-uniform day and pupils were each asked to bring in a food donation, and every time staff come in they bring in a food donation as well.

The majority of your pupils are now learning at home. What have you put in place to support them?

Our pupils are using some great platforms: SATs companion for Year 6 pupils and Education City for the rest of the academy. Each day, every single teacher sets their class an English task and a maths task and gives them a completion date.

We’re also using Class Dojo, a communication app. We’ve made sure that everyone is set up on that so that we can communicate with our parents and pupils easily. We also set tasks on Class Dojo: science projects, art, creative writing. It’s great to see the pupils getting involved and sending in pictures of what they’re doing.

We’re speaking to every child on the phone at least once every two weeks. Top of our priority list are those parents or children who haven’t accessed the home learning programmes, as well as any vulnerable children, so we can support them to keep up with the work.

All teachers also have a list of children who don’t have internet access – they’ve been sent home with a workbook pack, and their teachers will be checking in with them to see how they’re doing. We’ve also loaned every Year 6 pupil a laptop to use until the end of July.

I’m proud of the quality of the home learning that we’re offering. I’ve even asked for my son in Year 1 at another school to be added to our online learning, which I think is a real seal of approval! It’s also meant that I’ve been able to log on as a parent and see what our parents are seeing at home.

What has been your main take-away from this experience so far?

The strength of our team. Honestly, I’m so incredibly proud of them all. I want to say thanks in particular to our office staff. We had so much change in such a short time and there were home learning packs to prepare and phone-calls to take from parents, and they were just so professional and patient. Everyone has been amazing, and everyone is mucking in and doing their bit both in the academy and at home.