Coronavirus: Leadership in lockdown (Sheffield)

Wales High School, Sheffield

Headteacher Pepe Di’Iasio shares his experiences of what’s been working at his 11-19 school since lockdown began.

It has been a sobering realisation that education as we knew it up – and until around mid-March - is now a thing of the past. 

I’ve learnt a lot in these past few weeks about what really matters, I’ve learnt a lot about leadership and I’ve learnt what’s working now for our school, colleagues and our young people. 

Here are some of the processes we’ve adopted which may be of interest and may help other school and college leaders:
  • Keep to regular communication. The national ‘news’ is very regular with updates but these can be misleading and create panic. Our school updates are on set times each week so staff and families enjoy the consistency and that they will hear from the school with specific updates. 
  • •School has remained partially open. We have a chef, member of premises, admin, first aid, DSL and two teaching staff and one support (TA) staff each day. The ‘rota’ has not been given to staff – full consultation. Staff asked if they would like to play a role. Over 100 staff offered and so we have more volunteers than we need which means those with more difficult situations can be at home. 
  • •From the very start of COVID closure, we have made it absolutely clear that wellbeing and managing workload for our staff are the top priorities. Staff are being affected by COVID, losing loved ones and many have families at home. Expectation for delivering lessons online and being available throughout this time are totally unrealistic. We have adopted a ‘playing to our strengths’ policy within departments and sharing the workload. It has worked very well.
  • Home learning: we use Go 4 Schools  as a platform for online setting. As we have tracked home learning we have been able to evidence which students aren’t accessing their learning remotely. Tutors have now contacted their tutees to see why this might be and consequently we have been able to establish if it is as a result of lack of wifi / data or ICT hardware. Often students just need help working out how to gain access from home and we have set up an IT hot desk to support this and from this initial ‘triage’, we have been able to arrange for  ICT support in the home with a number of staff doing home visits when the hardware can be dropped off safely . 
  • •CPD for staff: rather than continuing with whatever CPD had been set up for the year we have prioritised sessions for developing strategies to improve ‘remote learning’. It is easy to assume all staff know how to deliver lessons online  but this isn’t the case and so we have scheduled CPD offers at a range of times the staff with families and other commitments choose to join at a convenient time.
  • •Importantly, we have also provided CPD for parents / carers. Prioritising support for parents so that they know how to home school, offering CPD on subjects, or online platforms. If parents understand how to use TEAMS you are more likely to have success with the student. 
  • •SEND students have been individually identified and each allocated a teaching assistant. This means SEND students get an ‘extra voice’. Often, they simply need the home learning instructions read to them due to their lower ability. 
  • •There are approximately 150 students on the ‘at risk’ safe and well check register. A specialist pastoral team of around ten members of staff are responsible for ‘checking in’ daily, weekly or every couple of days, depending on the context of the student. This is often directly aimed at the students themselves - having their mobile numbers or through WhatsApp or Face time. We also have three staff who are able to do home visits if we have issues or can’t make contact. A good relationship with social care has been a key to success here and helped them prioritise vital resources according to need
  • •Online work is varied for students. They too have been told there is a great deal of flexibility with deadlines. Avoiding new content to prevent gaps widening once we return. In Key Stage 3 we have prioritised subjects, such as life skills, wellbeing, creative, exercise, baking, and reading - the type of activities that previously may have been ‘squeezed’ or we might have less curriculum time for. 
  • •Over the Easter break we have been able to develop our links with the current Year 6. Setting some initial challenges and emailing parents and students to help them start to feel part of our school, reassuring them that transition will happen – just in a slightly different format. Also taking time to contact and speak with Year 6 teachers to get as much information as possible. 
  • •At the other end of school, we have been ensuring Year 11 have careers contact. We are also offering continued maths and English lessons for those who may not achieve standard pass. For those looking to enter our sixth form we have been sharing bridging work for A level subjects.
  • Implications for FSM: we took the decision early to always to continue to help by providing the money and vouchers for families to use. Many parents have a fear of collecting bags of food to take away, or asking for vouchers to present in a supermarket. Many of the families have chosen money directly into their account. 
  • Meals for all key worker students and the staff attending school are cooked by our chef who has been in on every day of the lockdown and insisted on freshly prepared, healthy meals every day which have all been free of charge to those staff and students in school.

Pepe Di’lasio is Headteacher at Wales High School, Sheffield and Chair of the ASCL Ethics, Inclusion and Equalities Committee.
Posted: 22/04/2020 10:45:29