Coronavirus: Schools must be ready in case of further lockdowns, Ipswich headteacher warns
Schools may need to find innovative ways of teaching students at home for the foreseeable future in case of prolonged coronavirus restrictions - or further lockdowns, an Ipswich headteacher has warned.
The warning from Copleston High School principal Andy Green comes as some have suggested the earliest realistic opening date for schools could be June 1.
Schools and colleges across the UK closed their doors to the majority of pupils, apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters, from March 23. GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled.
There has been no official guidance on when schools and colleges will reopen.
Children are returning to nurseries and schools in some other European countries - but some reports have suggested countries may need multiple lockdowns to protect citizens against future waves of Covid-19.
That could mean schools facing further periods where they are closed to all but children of key workers.
Copleston High School principal Andy Green has warned that could serious implications for children’s long-term education – unless high-quality online learning programmes are in put in place during any future lockdown periods.
Although he said schools will reopen at some stage from the current lockdown restrictions, he said: “Until they find a vaccine, there are potentially going to be peaks and then lockdowns to try and flatten them.
“It could come in waves. There are going to be periods of relaxing the lockdown and schools going back, but you could have potentially three to four cycles of students being at home and having to do online learning.
“If your online learning programme is not of high quality, when you’re in a lockdown of four, five or six weeks at a time then students are going to really suffer and miss out.”
Mr Green believes schools like Copleston will need to develop a “blended learning approach”, where they can switch quickly from classroom to online learning should another lockdown be needed.
“If schools don’t do this well, it will be the most disadvantaged students who fall further behind,” he warned.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said there are “no plans” to reopen schools before the summer, after reports suggested they could reopen in May.
What will it mean for students?
Suffolk schools have taken different approaches to online learning, with some setting rigid programmes and others simply encouraging parents to do their best to educate their children.
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The Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, for example, has set up remote lessons, which pupils join by video at set times each day.
Copleston has opted to allow students access materials uploaded into a Microsoft SharePoint folder, which include activities, reading materials and screencasts.
The school has also pointed pupils to a wealth of free online materials, such as virtual tours of the Natural History Museum and free science lessons with Brian Cox.
Sean Harrington, assistant principal in charge of the curriculum at Copleston, said: “We’re hoping our approach is as flexible as possible, while still enabling them to access the same amount of learning.”
However, he stressed students have regular contact with teachers to check their progress and understanding of the topics.
“We appreciate that young people might have to learn in different ways at home,” he said.
“It can’t be like a live lesson experience, but we’re still trying to build in regular contact points so teachers can check their learning.
“It’s been a learning process for pretty much all teachers across the profession.
“However, we’ve tried to advise that young people follow a timetable as much as possible, as if you have a structure it helps wellbeing.”
He also said despite the challenges of remote learning, it has highlighted things that can be used beyond the coronavirus crisis.
For example, it has shown how teachers can video conference with tutors from other schools to share best practice.
It also envisaged the online packages could be used for students who cannot attend lessons for other reasons, such as injury, or that they could be used for revision classes in school holidays.
Piper’s Vale Primary, in Ipswich, said it was constantly reviewing its home learning material as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.
Although the school has online learning materials, it also produces a lot of hard copy materials which physically delivered to children’s doors.
Kimberly Morton, principal of the Paradigm Trust school, said: “Of course we’d all like to go back to normal, but the safety of the children and the staff has got to come first.
“Until then, we’ll continue to do all we can to support learning at home and the education of our pupils. It is a challenge for everyone.”
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