Just over three months ago, a whole new world opened up to thousands of pupils in Bridgend county borough as online learning replaced the traditional school day for many.
Using a variety of online platforms and a raft of resources, they have been engaging and learning via innovative and creative methods devised by their teachers who have tried, as far as possible, to keep to the main areas of learning they would have covered when in school.
Recalling that first weekend in March the day after schools closed, Sue Davies, the deputy headteacher of Coety Primary School who has led the school’s online learning team, said she drew up a plan on how to ensure teachers could continue to act as a team so they could provide the best experience possible for everyone involved. The plan involved using people’s strengths to upskill others as well as establishing working groups to continue with the school’s development.
She said: “A lot of our staff were going to be working in the emergency childcare hubs so we needed to work out how best to support them and ensure they weren’t trying to juggle home-learning and the hub at the same time during the start up. Communication was key and teamwork has been vital to the smooth running of home learning.
“We have tried to keep to similar topics that we would have done in school – adapting resources to those that children may have at home. We wanted to use materials already familiar to the children wherever possible.
“Everyone’s circumstances at home are different – we are very aware parents have been trying their best. The pupils have been phenomenal posting a wide variety of learning and parents have been so supportive and flexible to changes we have had to make.
“We have been in contact with any parents requesting support and set up a technical query email to ensure we can help and support them in this area. We understand it’s been a very difficult time.”
The school has been using the Seesaw online platform with additional learning materials available for children wanting to study more. They have also used links such as Joe Wicks, The Tate Gallery and The Hay Festival to support learning. The platform has enabled teachers to upload work and provide some communication between home and school.
Mrs Davies said: “We have constant reviews. We will soon be changing the online platform to enable more blended learning and communication. Children coming in before the summer break will be introduced to this new system. We wanted to ensure that pupils had experienced this platform in school before September.”
In addition to leading the online learning teaching team, Mrs Davies has been co-teaching Year 6 pupils. Pupils have been studying a range of Maths, Science and Literacy skills ranging from data handling and statistics to regular and irregular shapes, and mystery story-writing.
Mrs Davies said: “Obviously, those transitioning won’t be able to visit their new school as they normally would. We have been in touch with all the secondary schools looking at how we can move forward. We also hope to celebrate their time at Coety in the best way we possibly can before the end of term.”
Children at Trelales Primary School have been using the online platform Class Dojo with children having used it daily in class before the lockdown.
Richard Perkins, a Year 2 teacher at the school, said: “The platform has enabled me to upload tasks that the children can access via their parents. Each week has been structured around a mini topic ranging from minibeasts and pirates to VE Day.
“All the Maths and Literacy work has been developed using the skills framework with the mini topic making it purposeful and engaging so the children are able to see the reason for completing activities.”
Alongside the mini topic each week, children have been set a series of practical challenges, ranging from times table practice to reading and craft activities to real life challenges like tying shoelaces and making a meal, with the aim of helping to encourage independence.
A recent topic has focused on wellbeing using the book The Day the Crayons Quit as the stimulus with work over the coming weeks looking at feelings, empathy and wellbeing.
Mr Perkins said: “The change to online learning from having been in school was quite dramatic – we left school one Friday and on the Monday this whole new world opened up with online learning.
“The responses to the online learning have been incredible with at least 30 pieces being returned daily, and exceeding 100 on some days from my class.
“This hasn’t wavered throughout the time we have been on lockdown with work still coming in thick and fast daily. Parents have been incredibly supportive of the platform and the way I have had to change the norm.”
Ruth Davies-McHugh, a Year 5 teacher at Ysgol Cynwyd Sant, said one of the additional challenges for teachers in Welsh-medium schools had been the lack of activities and resources in the Welsh language.
She said: “We have been creating our own resources from scratch and translating activities for the children. Some teachers have been recording themselves reading books for the children to hear Welsh – a lot of children come from non-Welsh speaking families so they haven’t been hearing the language.”
The school has been using Google classroom, Hwb and Seesaw online platforms, creating online menus every two weeks on the six areas of learning and experience which includes Literacy, Maths, and Health and Wellbeing.
Mrs Davies-McHugh said: “We’ve been focused on putting each subject into an everyday context – for example in Maths, we looked at the measurement of two metres – what would be two metres, what would be more and less. We’d previously done work on Roald Dahl – he would have been about two metres, and Alun Wyn Jones. When they come back to school, they’ll know what two metres looks like.
“Topics have included VE Day, the background and history of the NHS and Aneurin Bevan, and coronavirus – looking at what it is and undertaking the little experiment involving pepper in water which moves away when you have soap or hand sanitiser on your hands, demonstrating the importance of washing your hands.
“We’ve encouraged children to take part in the online PE classes with Joe Wicks and Carol Vorderman’s Maths site, BBC Bitesize and Natwest’s Moneysense which is about financial literacy.
“The children were used to using various online platforms in school so it’s been easier to use them at home. We also set up ‘how to’ guidelines with short videos and slides for parents.
“Some children are really flourishing working from home. For those children on the autistic spectrum or who are dyslexic the online software is great as they can press a button and speak into it – they don’t have to type in their answers.
“There’s been all kinds of creativity from the children.”
The Leader, Cllr Huw David, said: “Our teachers have been doing an incredible job during this unprecedented and very challenging period of school closure.
“They have created a wealth of online resources and used innovative ways of ensuring learning continues for our school children while making it accessible for parents at the same time.
“It’s been a huge team effort from all staff, some of whom have been juggling childcare and overseeing home-learning for their own children at the same time.”