Day in the life of a virtual Sheffield primary school - lessons during lockdown and everything inbetween

When the lockdown restrictions were imposed in March, schools across the UK were faced with the monumental task of continuing to educate their pupils, albeit virtually.

Thursday, 14th May 2020, 11:09 am

Headteachers in Sheffield went from running an ordinary school one day to organising a virtual school the next, leaving teachers to find inventive ways to keep children engaged with learning while at home.

The move has been ‘quick and effective’ for many schools including Totley Primary, Valley Park Primary and Nether Edge Primary School.

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Virtual PE lesson courtesy of Joe Wicks

Mercia Learning Trust, which governs all three, said different approaches have been chosen at each school to suit the communities’ needs and have been matched to the learning that pupils had been doing in school before the lockdown was announced on March 23.

Totley Primary is in contact with families by email and is setting learning on its website, while Nether Edge and Valley Park schools use ‘Class Dojo’ to set daily learning which teachers can check and mark.

But what goes on behind the scenes? Teachers from across the three schools have now given an insight into the trials and tribulations – showing how the ‘typical’ day can differ for those still in school for the children of key workers or others who are creating lessons for online.

The trust has also created a video showing how both teachers and pupils have adapted to the new way of learning.

Pupils at the Mercia Learning Trust teaching hub at King Ecgbert School

Mr Atkinson, Assistant Headteacher at Totley Primary

“6.20am – The alarm goes. I’m up and out ready to get set up ready to meet the first children at 7.30am for breakfast.

“By 9am, all the children have arrived at our school hub at King Ecgbert School (between seven and nine children per day). We start with Joe Wicks’ PE lesson: an energetic start to the day, and one we can all enjoy. Then we have phonics for Key Stage 1 and Foundation Stage 2 children.

“The clever people at Read Write Inc have uploaded lessons to YouTube to follow along with. It’s incredible how quickly the RWI strategies have been embedded in all the children. ‘We have Fred at our school too!’ was a moment of realisation between two Y2 children last week that filled me with joy!

Archie, a Year 6 pupil at Valley Park Primary who has contributed to the video diary

“We then crack on with the home learning packs children would have otherwise been doing at home. It’s a delight to have the chance to spend time with children from another Mercia Learning Trust school, Nether Edge Primary, as well.

“Children are forming friendships they wouldn’t have otherwise (Daisy has now officially invited Seren to her spa party ‘once this is all over’). We also get a chance to check in with some of our vulnerable children and give them the structure and support they benefit from.

“An extended playtime (the good weather is helping!) in the deserted grounds of King Ecgbert School, Maths, English and reading to complete, lunch comes around quickly. With rumbling tummies, we head to the dining room to get lunch from the cook, Val.

“After a breath of fresh air, we are back to the classroom for crafts, wider curriculum activities and, if there’s time for those being picked up later, a movie.

“At pick up, every parent has said thank you. Without fail. Providing childcare is a pleasant enough way to pass a day and (thinking selfishly) offers routine in an era otherwise devoid of the ingrained timings of the school day. It’s easy to feel detached from the front line in a quiet, sleepy suburb of south-west Sheffield as the day meanders by without the usual pressures and stresses of a day’s teaching.

“The frontline workers picking up their children each day are heroes, and it’s nice to feel you’re helping out at least a little bit.”

Mrs Lane, Teacher at Valley Park Primary

“8am – Time to finish marking and archiving yesterday’s tasks set for the children. Then some time to reply to messages from parents.

“9am – Let’s open the virtual classroom! Picture clues, as few words as possible, and a summary sheet with bright graphics seems to work here; getting everyone in the know about the day early. Then a quick check on what some of the other class teachers are posting, maybe adding a few ‘likes’ or ‘comments’ and picking up a few ideas for what works well on the way.

“10am – Panic! The system is not letting me upload two PDFs on to one post! I need to quickly consolidate two lists of words onto one PDF - cut and paste skills used here. But what if parents can’t open a PDF? Can’t everyone open a PDF? I’m not sure! IT skills have really been tested these last two weeks of home teaching.

“10.30am – I need to get my filming assistant up out of bed to film the video I want to post to my class. “Come on 12-year-old, time to help mummy!” I better brush my hair if the class (and their parents) are going to see me. And where is the rainbow T-shirt I’ve been wearing all lock-down? I like to wear it when filming.

“11.00am – Filming done and video posted. I don’t think the video is great, but they’ll get better with practice. I’m slightly worried about the uncarpeted bit of floor the class will see. We paid for the carpet 6 weeks ago now and it’s still not laid - the joys of social distancing!

“11.15am – After coffee in the garden because the weather has been great I mark some work the class have posted and answer some messages from parents. Why can’t they follow a link? I’m always asking myself ‘what do they see their end?’

“While marking I take some screenshots, ready to make a celebration montage later of the work the class are posting. Forearms rubbing on the bedroom cupboard - I must sort out a bigger work surface to work on!”

“12.30pm – Lunch in the garden, with the whole family because we are all here and the sun is out.

“1pm – I post a task for the afternoon for the class to complete. Then I chase a few children who have not submitted any work yet and finish marking what has been submitted. I read and reply to any emails that have been sent and send any that I need to.

“2pm – Time to make a montage to celebrate what the class has done for their home learning.

“2.30pm – I start thinking about tomorrow’s activities - no PPA time at the moment! I pull a few resources and ideas together before it’s 3pm and time to close the virtual classroom. The children and their parents have been great today, again, in these very bizarre times.”

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