We’ve been checking in with Educate Together schools to see how they’ve been supporting students through distance learning during the covid-19 restrictions. Here’s an update from the Somerdale Educate Together Primary School, the second Educate Together school to be established in England:
On the evening of Wednesday 18th March, the British Prime Minister announced that all schools in the UK would close to all but children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. An announcement no-one could have foreseen six months ago, yet here we were, at short notice organising how we would enact childcare provision for those eligible as well as prepare our children for school closure.
Our small, but fantastic Somerdale Educate Together community was established in 2017 where we opened to a grand total of 12 pupils – the second ever Educate Together school in England, based just outside of Bristol on the site of the former Fry’s/Cadbury’s chocolate factory. Fast forward three years and we have a thriving school, with almost 150 children on roll from Pre-School to Year Three. We have the most kind, enthusiastic and caring school community, which stretches beyond children, staff and parents to include the wider community too with strong links with the care home and dementia home next door where pupils visit residents regularly and residents come to school as volunteer readers. Every member of our community is valued and integral to the upholding of the ethos and values of our school.
The most important question with lockdown was how to continue to provide and care for our community. All our children, parents and staff are so important to Somerdale Educate Together, so how could we keep this great community engaged and supported?
Transitioning to home education is a huge challenge for children, parents and teachers. Teachers have been extremely resourceful in creating weekly home learning booklets with lots of ideas and activities for families to access at home. It was so important to us that these were manageable. We had to keep in mind that learning shouldn’t be burdensome or the cause of any conflicts during an already emotionally challenging time. Even though children are not physically being taught at school, it was important to all of us that children continued to have opportunities to explore the Learn Together curriculum at home alongside core subjects and the wider curriculum. As a UNICEF ‘Rights Respecting’ school, children have been exploring a different right each week whilst at home, engaging in conversations with family members and sharing their learning in a wide range of creative ways. Activities are provided which cover all four strands of Learn Together and it has been a fantastic opportunity for our parents to become actively engaged with Learn Together and children’s rights.
Alongside these booklets, teachers have been regularly calling our families to offer support and advice where we can. A shared email address was created so that parents could contact members of staff and we have also been caring for the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children who have continued to come into school during lockdown.
Teaching staff have been reading stories and sharing these with the community via Google Drive and this has been a huge hit with all. Staff have also created photo collages and a video of the whole team singing and dancing along to ‘Happy’ – whilst maintaining social distancing protocols of course! The response from our families has been fantastic and it has been heart-warming to read about the smiles it put on the faces of the children.
Parents and children have also been pro-active with keeping the school community strong. Parents of every class have organised regular group zoom sessions so that their children can see each other virtually and classes have sent over their own class photo collages to teachers.
There have been many occasions during this lockdown to feel proud of our school community, but there is one particular moment that stands out. I received an e-mail from one of our parents about her five-year-old child who is a member of our Reception class. Before the announcement of lockdown, the whole school had organised to visit the care home to sing a selection of spring songs. Their child was feeling sad for the residents in the care home as he felt that they probably weren’t getting many visitors and they wouldn’t get the chance to see the spring performance. The child had asked his Mum if they could send a video instead. Within a few days, the family had organised for various children in the class to e-mail in videos and then created a wonderful video montage of the children singing ‘Spring Chicken’ to be sent over to the care home. The residents loved it, with the community engagement coordinator responding that she has got ‘lots of lovely responses saying how much it cheered them up and how lovely’ it was.
During tough times like these, we learn how important being part of a thriving community is. We have been so proud of our community. Although we may still be a small school, the heart of our school community is much, much bigger.
Going forward, there will be many more challenges ahead and many unknowns. What is certain though is that children will always be at the heart of every decision we make, and the love, support and enthusiasm of our school community will help guide us and we will continue to grow stronger as we get through this together.
Sam O’Regan, Senior Teacher, Somerdale Educate Together
Real stories from the Educate Together community
Educate Together’s schools mean so much to the lives of the children and young people who attend them, and to the communities that they are a part of. You can read, watch and listen to real stories from the students, staff and families involved in the Educate Together school movement on this page and at the links above. Do you have an experience from an Educate Together school which you would like to share? Share your story: firstname.lastname@example.org