How Carmarthen's QE High School moved to online learning during Covid-19 crisis - In Your Area
2/19/21, 3:36 PM
Almost a year since the pandemic swept in, staff, pupils and parents give an insight into daily school life
The impact coronavirus is having on our children's education has been at the forefront of people's minds for almost a year now.
Since the first lockdown came in March 2020 and schools across the UK moved to online learning at home, it was a steep curve to climb for headteachers, staff, pupils and parents.
Here we look at how QE High School, the largest secondary school in Carmarthen, adapted to the changes no one saw coming.
QE High School in Johnstown on the edge of the town, has seen the bustle of corridors between lessons, the clatter of lunchtime, familiar sounds and sights of the playground all fall away in the last 12 months.
Despite brief periods back at school since the pandemic started, rising cases of the virus saw any long-term return quickly abandoned and more lockdowns.
Like many across Wales, pupils and teachers have been communicating via computer screens, and laptops every day, but there are hopes for a 'road map' emerging for pupils return over coming months.
Some teachers do go into school to deliver lessons to pupils at home while others are teaching from their own homes - it is a flexible situation based on what any given lesson may call for.
For headteacher Dave Williams it's been a huge challenge but one the school has faced.
He said: “I am exceptionally proud of all of our pupils and staff in embracing the ‘new normal’ and particular thanks must go to the parents and carers who have had to adapt their daily lives to support their children.
"We have faced significant hurdles, but we have overcome them by working more closely together as a community.”
It has had to adopt new approaches to all aspects of school life to overcome challenges that we never thought we would have to face.
Essentially QE High is a school at the heart of its community adapting successfully to challenging times according to Mr Williams.
Not content with just pushing the curriculum out, the school has acted as a food distribution centre and adapted classrooms and the canteen to support the temporary hospital housed in the neighbouring leisure centre.
As well as providing respite care in Canolfan Elfed, - the schoool's specialist teaching centre, for the most vulnerable pupils - and provided hub care facilities for children of key workers.
So what does learning look like on a day to day basis?
Pupils are receiving a rich variety of lessons which consist of a mix of recorded video lessons, live face to face Google classroom lessons, digital tasks, interactive questions with instant feedback and even work on pen and paper, photographed and submitted digitally in order to have a blended learning approach.
This variety offers pupils an experience that is both familiar and resembles elements of face-to-face classroom based learning.
Dr Robbie Rickman, a science teacher at the school said: ‘As teachers, our job is to provide support, help and feedback.
"However, it is all the small, human interactions that we provide that feel most valuable.
"It has been really rewarding seeing pupils engaging and making real progress despite not being in the classroom.
"Most pupils have thrived on the direct, focused attention that digital learning can provide.
"I don’t want to downplay the fact that online learning is a huge challenge for both staff and pupils, however the resilience and how adaptive learners here at QE High has been truly impressive.
"The pupils have become highly proficient at using digital tools, they have taken ownership and pride in their work and are managing their own schedules; demonstrating excellent time management in difficult circumstances."
The switch to remote learning and reliance on technology is something staff and pupils had to get used to quickly last year.
Assistant headteacher Angharad Lewis said: "The staff at the school have undertaken significant training and are using new ICT skills to provide a range of lessons.
"Teachers know that students learn best when they enjoy their lessons and we have certainly been very impressed with the work our students have completed.
"This has been a journey for us all but the new skills will certainly be ones that we will continue to develop."
The need for laptops at home has been crucial
The school has issued IT equipment to pupils where required so that pupils can
work at home but it hasn't been an easy road.
Through the registered charity Business2Schools the school has benefited from IT donations to further enhance the offering to pupils, donations have been received from Puffin Produce, the BBC and The Lady Fatima Trust.
Founded two years ago, Business2Schools is a charity and was established to connect businesses with primary and secondary schools so that pupils can benefit from both cutting edge technology and high-quality furniture that is no longer needed.
There are more than 900 schools in the UK registered to receive donations from the charity but it said a "high volume of need" remains.
QE High School's business manager Nigel Cooke said: "By signing up to Business2Schools this has allowed us to tap into generous donations and I would encourage other schools to take the opportunity to sign up.
"I have recently taken the role as Head of Schools in Wales for Business2Schools and the impact these donations make to education is phenomenal".
The push to enable all pupils to get a laptop for home-schooling is still falling short, the charity has warned.
The school has seen families where there's only one computer, iPad, or mobile which of course makes the challenges of home learning harder.
Just last month head teacher Mr Williams spoke of the IT challengesbeing faced and how Business2Schools was proving instrumental in helping pupils study from home.
He said: "Having access to the internet has been essential to facilitate home schooling.
"However, it’s been a real struggle for many of our students as they either do not have a laptop or have been live streaming via a mobile phone."
"There are 24% of our students who have access to the free school meal scheme, and these laptops will be given to a number of families who need support, providing our students with the facilities they so desperately need.”
Supporting each other and wellbeing has proved vital
From a pupil perspective head girl Sophie Davies and head boy Ben Evans spoke of what this new way of learning has meant to them.
Sophie said ‘It’s been a difficult year due to the pandemic but the second to none support from my teachers has allowed me to take on the challenge of learning at home head on.
"Even though it has been a struggle on times, I feel this will not impact my
future and this is because of how empathetic and reassuring staff have been’.
While Ben said: "Being able to interact with my peers while studying has made the learning experience far more enjoyable and I think it has helped me to develop into not only a better student, but a better person overall.
"It has been difficult for everyone under these circumstances but teachers have provided us with great support which has allowed us to adapt and face the challenges that the pandemic has presented us with in the best way possible"
Reflecting on how parents are finding the experience, Sarah Homer, a parent said ‘I feel that the staff at QE High have dealt superbly over the last year.
"Being faced with an ever-changing situation the school staff have consistently provided what I consider to be a thorough, realistic and appropriate level of teaching combined with provision and assistance to cater for our pupils’ overall development and wellbeing needs.
"Moving forward I feel confident with the approach in providing a level of teaching and support that continues my children being able to achieve their best outcomes in these uncertain times."
To engage with parents during these unprecedented times, the school operates virtual parent evenings.
Parent Dymphna Powell said: "I have been impressed with the use of virtual technology by QE High to engage both pupils and parents during the pandemic.
"The recent parents’ evening ran exceptionally well. Parents were sent emails containing both written and video instructions.
"The event automatically, or manually if preferred, booked appointments with your child’s selected subject teacher .
The meetings took place virtually, this worked successfully and was very convenient’.
It will also be a first for the school when it runs its Sixth Form Virtual Open evening on Thursday, February 25 at 6pm.
Looking back at the last year, Helen Starkey, chair of governors at QE High praised the school on its endeavours throughout these challenging times.
She said: "Communication and contact have been key elements of the school’s efforts to maintain learning and to offer help and support to our young people, their families and to the wider community.
"Staff have responded positively and purposefully to the changing educational landscape and taken on board blended teaching and learning techniques in order to reach out to pupils across the range of abilities.
"The pandemic has presented many uncertainties and worries for our pupils to which staff have responded with empathy and understanding."
The Welsh Government is considering allowing all primary school pupils, as well as some older students in secondary school and college, back to face-to-face learning on Monday, March 15, providing the situation around coronavirus continues to improve.
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