This is how Doncaster primary schools are dealing with the new Covid lockdown

It may feel like deja vu for teachers, pupils and families across Doncaster as lockdown hits the borough's schools again.

Monday, 11th January 2021, 9:06 am

But despite the buildings being closed to most pupils due to concerns about rising coronavirus numbers, schools are prepared this time.

While closing in March left them trying to start a new way of educating from scratch, this time they already had plans ready to go.

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Key worker pupils at Park Primary School, Wheatley, Doncaster, during a lesson during lockdown. Picture: Park Primary School

And as teachers go online to bring schooling into youngsters' own homes, children can now sit down to pre-planned lessons, using borrowed computers if needed, and even see familiar faces take on Joe Wicks at his own game!

Park Primary School, in Wheatley, was among those back to teaching online again last week.

Headteacher Karen Fagg said she thought the work they were doing this time round at their site on Monmouth Road was more intense than in March, because they already knew what they were doing, as both her team and the Government had learned from the last time.

She said: “This time, we’ve got a remote learning package set up, which we did not have last time, so we can offer online lessons.

Teacher Jonathan Hays, teaching Hazel class, year 5 pupils, a reciprocal reading lesson at Waverley Primary School, Balby, Doncaster, during the January 2020 lockdown. PIcture: Waverley Primary School

"I observed the first two online phonics lessons last week, and they were fun and useful. We’ve been using a combination of live and recorded lessons, bespoke for each class. We are aware that there are families with several children sharing one device.

"Live lessons are great, but you’ve got to be aware some may not be able to have access to the lesson at that time."

School staff have also been delivering work packs for pupils who do not have the computer technology or the expertise available. But Mrs Fagg said the earliest lessons were seeing around three quarters accessing the classes online either at home or at school as key worker or vulnerable children.

Among the new online lessons at Park have been Walker’s Workouts – which are seeing teacher Gary Walker taking the sort of routines that Joe Wicks was popularising during the first lockdown, and offering them to the children of Wheatley with a familiar face.

Teacher Gary Walker running an online lesson at Park Primary School, Wheatley

Mr Walker has done a lot of PE work at the school, and suggested he put something together. He is aiming to create one a week, pre-recording them.

Mrs Fagg said he was modest about his sessions.

"He doesn’t think he’s as good as Joe,” she said. “But we think he definitely is.

"We are thinking about putting more online dealing with pastoral things as well, to help with the children’s well being.”

Teacher Gary Walker running an online lesson at Park Primary School, Wheatley. Picture: Park Primary School

The school has also upped its technology. It has a messaging system now for parents which will translate automatically into 27 different languages.

They also have 30 laptops from the Government, which have been loaned to families who it was felt would benefit the most from them.

And through a scheme with communications companies, they are able to arrange for some families to have data upgrades, so that they have the capacity to go online without running out of data, as well as a number of data-only SIM cards.

But she is aware that while the school can provide such equipment, it cannot make pupils log on, and so there needed to be a lot of communication between families and the school.

Children on free school meals are still getting them, with packed food available for collection at the school, which Mrs Fagg said would be a good time to catch up with parents and check they and the children were coping.

Of the school’s 400 pupils, around 140 are currently coming in.

Louise Stanton, headteacher at Waverley Academy, Balby. PIcture: Astrea Trust

A few miles away in Balby, new head teacher Louise Stanton is experiencing lockdown at Waverley Primary Academy on Douglas Road, for the first time. She was at Hillside Primary Academy in Denaby last March, another school run by the same Astrea schools trust, but took up her new job in Balby in September.

She said even before the Government announced this month's lockdown, plans were in place. They had to be, as some groups of pupils could have had to self isolate at any time if their bubble had a coronavirus case. The school had two bubbles which had to do so last term.

She thinks the big difference between now and March is that in March, schools were going over previous learning – but this time they are driving forward new teaching.

Waverley has 27 per cent of its pupils currently coming in as key worker or vulnerable children, a higher number than March.

She said: “I think there’s been a change in thought. I think parents are more worried about missing learning now.”

LIke Park, they were lucky in that they managed to get some laptops from the Government which have been loaned to families.

But they started to prepare for home learning as soon as schools returned in September.

Mrs Stanton’s vice principal, Danielle Wilby, has become the school’s unofficial IT helpline.

She has sent step by step guides to parents, and helped teach parents who needed assistance about how to get online, from resetting passwords to showing them how to switch the machines on.

"She’s done an amazing job;” said Mrs Stanton. “She’s been helping the teachers as well.”

The school is looking to give pupils some live lessons each day to keep them feeling part of a group.

Morning and afternoon registrations are live. Younger years get live phonics and live maths or literacy daily, sometimes more in the afternoon. Years five and six have more live lessons in core subjects.

She feels families have been supportive. Many had messaged thanks.

"Each day access is improving,” she said. “Year six had 22 out of 26 engaging all lesson. It's improving every day.

"I’m proud of our staff, children and families and how amazing they’ve been in accepting the new challenges and not letting it unpick the learning. Teachers want to teach the children by whatever means necessary.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.

Karen Fagg, headteacher, Park Primary School, Wheatley