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Alternative provision schools: life in lockdown

A teacher, wearing glasses and a Catch22 hoody, sits at a laptop computer with a child who is navigating the touchpad and resting his head on one hand.

Lockdown is disrupting practically every organisation in some way, not least the education system. Jane Reed, Catch22’s Head of Education talks of the challenges and positives of the current circumstances, for staff and for our students.

With the majority of pupils out of their classroomsmany parents juggling workfamily and supporting home learning, and teachers switching to digital delivery, workpacks and daily ‘safe and well’ contacts – the transformation is an urgent response to an urgent moment.

Throughout the COVID-19 challenge our alternative provision and SEMH (Social Emotional and Mental Health) special schools have remained open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers and our brilliant and committed school leaders and staff have gone above and beyond in continuing to make a provision and provide support to our pupils.  

Our overriding mantra being: ‘If we can do so safely then we will’. Our ‘unlock plans’ for schools therefore aligned with three key conditions: 

  • Staff must be confident that they are safe. 
  • School leaders must be confident in the arrangements they put in place adhere to the government guidance. 
  • Parents and pupils must be confident enough in our arrangements so pupils attend. 

For our pupils the difficulties and disadvantages of life in lockdown are all the more starkSome children are living in challenging home situations, some are unable to access the technology needed for home learning and some are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. The post-COVID consequences are significant as the performance gap is widening, access and equality is decreasing  

The transformation in education due to COVID-19 though does have some real positive legacy changes that we want to retain when things get back to some degree of normality:

Home/school relationships

There has been a genuine strengthening of relationships across the board. Probably due to the fact that we’ve not done pandemics before and the sense of ‘we’re all in this together’! 

Creative approaches to the delivery of our on-site and home learning offer have developed quickly across the schools to meet the individual needs of pupils. Some school staff and parents have ‘teamed up’ using evidence-based programmes to target activities and support in meeting the emotional needs of their child. Feedback from pupils and parents is overwhelmingly positive and the personalised communications are ensuring effective sight lines on the safety and welfare of pupils and families.

This has transformed the need to prioritise therapeutic as well as academic education, in support of achieving meaningful qualifications, sustained positive destinations and better social outcomes. 

Sector partnership working and collaboration

Despite the obvious challenges in the current situation, system changes (such as engagement with local authorities, support from Department for Education and cooperation between providers) has accelerated significantly and for the better. 

The shared moral purpose of school and system leaders has resulted in genuine collaboration and partnership working between school leaders across the different phases (primary, secondary, special, alternative provision) and sectors (academy, maintained, independent) 

The sector voice is talking and listening and responding proactively and professionally. School leaders, Multi Academy Trust CEOs, local authorities, regional schools commissioners, the Department for Education, professional associations. This ‘teaming-up’  has further strengthened professional relationships, respect and understanding for leading our schools through adversity in this urgent moment. 

This unified system leadership and joined-up sector voice is a significant positive legacy and will stand schools in good stead – a pure force for improvement.  

As we start to emerge from lockdown, and schools being to reopen fully, the post-COVID challenge to all of us will be to act on closing the vulnerable performance gap by sustaining the best elements from the last few months.