January 2021

Withernsea High School students praised for seamless transition to Remote Learning

Since March 2020, staff and students at schools up and down the country have had to adapt to unprecedented change – much of it at relatively short notice in response to an ever-evolving national picture. 

When the announcement came that all schools would close their doors from Monday 23rd March, standard means of education came to an abrupt halt while everyone tried to make sense of the developing situation.

As the country began to adjust to life in lockdown, staff rallied round to bridge the gap and maintain contact with their school communities.

At Withernsea High School, this took the shape of weekly newsletters; welfare phone calls to all families and a continuation of learning through existing online learning platforms, which complemented the distribution of hard-copy work packs being sent home to all students.

Behind the scenes, much more work was taking place. This included the implementation of Microsoft Teams to enable virtual meetings and remote teaching, plus the migration of files and documents to a new remote platform that staff and students could access with greater ease.

Fast forward to September and the start of a new academic year not only brought with it the welcome return of all students to the classroom, it also brought a substantial amount of preparation and planning for the weeks and months ahead – with a cautious eye continuing to remain on national developments.

Within the first few days of term, students were given live tutorials on how to use the new Teams system and parents/carers were canvassed about their IT and internet access at home. This enabled the school to build a picture of which students may need additional support in the event of any future full or partial school closure.

The Home learning area of the school’s website was redeveloped to ensure continuity of learning could be maintained in any eventuality. With potential scenarios ranging from individuals/groups of students isolating, through to full year group ‘bubbles’ learning from home, each subject provided relevant links to tasks, resources and online lessons that directly corresponded with the curriculum being taught in school - ensuring that no learner was left behind.

As the term progressed, the respite granted by the summer’s partial lifting of restrictions was quickly replaced by localised lockdowns in response to the growing numbers of Covid-19 cases around the country.

At Withernsea High School, the peak of this growth arrived in mid-November when, for a short time, two full year groups were learning from home. Live teacher-led lessons via Teams commenced immediately and students quickly and successfully adapted to this new method of learning.

Anticipating a bumpy transition in to 2021, work continued on the development of the school’s Home Learning provision. A concerted effort by a number of staff resulted in the work for the full Spring term going ‘live’ on the website at the end of last term.

On New Year’s Eve, plans were still in place for a staggered return of students to school. However, just 48 hours later, it was all change again as the Government made the decision to once again shut schools as part of another national lockdown.

Unlike March, where the initial lockdown had taken everyone by surprise, this latest announcement had been widely anticipated and suitably planned for.

Assistant Headteacher Andrea Mackenzie has overseen the successful implementation of Remote Learning at Withernsea High School. Mrs Mackenzie commented:
‘The move to whole school Remote Learning was something that has been rigorously prepared for over recent weeks and months. The combined efforts of staff, students, parents and carers has meant that this transition has been a smooth one.

Crucially, our students were able to begin the new term on time, with teacher-led lessons commencing immediately. This is something we, as a school, are immensely proud of and we would like to thank our school community for their support in making this possible.’

When asked about how she was finding Remote Learning, Year 11 student Molly Kirk said: ‘It’s going really well. It’s harder than actually being in school because you do miss the face-to-face contact and not having access to all the resources you would normally have, but it’s been made easier by the teachers who have been really supportive.’

‘In live lessons, I find it really good that the teachers are always there to answer questions and talk us through what we need to do, but they also give us the time and space needed to work on our own. It’s a really good balance that I think works well.’

Addressing some of the challenges that many schools face with online teaching, Mrs Mackenzie continued: ‘We have opted for a blended learning approach that combines live lessons with comprehensive online resources, accessible through our website at any time via a range of devices.

For a minority of families we identified as struggling with internet access and/or access to suitable IT equipment, we have endeavoured to lend them the relevant items, whilst also promoting national strategies such as the increased data allowance scheme on certain mobile networks.

We have also prepared a Remote Learning Resource Pack for all students, containing workbooks, stationery, a reading book plus subject-specific tasks and worksheets.’

While the vast majority of staff and students are working from home, the school is still open for a number of students who fall into the categories stipulated by the government as requiring supervised support in school.

Headteacher Mark Crofts commented:
‘Our on-site provision is working really well. Numbers of students attending are higher than in the summer, and we have a different approach. Students are tuned into the online learning that those at home are engaged with, but they are being supervised and supported by our staff.

As you’d expect, there is a purposeful buzz about the place. Our numbers have very steadily increased and we are more than satisfied that we have the balance right: most students at home, keeping safe and learning well; some students in school enabling parents and carers to play their part in supporting society,’

Whether students are currently learning at home or in school, the overall message remains clear: the school and its staff remain available to support students and parents/carers alike. Mr Crofts continued: ‘Parents and carers have been incredibly supportive of what we are doing. None of us underestimate the challenge of caring for a family, working and supporting a child’s education at home, and my colleagues and I recognise how hard parents are working with us to maintain a quality education for their children.

Communication is key, and the strong relationships parents have with our staff has helped to sustain this. We really do welcome feedback and have canvassed all parents this week to get even more information about how we can improve, and how we can help parents and carers to support their children.

If I had to give general advice to parents supporting their children, I would say this. Firstly, do what you can, and don’t judge yourself by other peoples’ standards – this is a tough job for everyone and only you know the best way to keep your child engaged. Secondly, talk to them about what they are learning and talk to us about any aspect of the Remote Learning experience. There are always staff available to help with the smallest or biggest of problems.’

Feedback from parents/carers has been gratefully received by the school. One such comment, from a parent whose child is in Year 7, said: ‘In a recent lesson I started to hear chatting and laughing coming from where my son was working. The lesson was mid-flow and I noticed how the group were engaged in their work but also having fun. I know the importance of continuing learning, but also the massive importance of their mental health right now and it was fantastic to see and hear the kids being happy and coming off mute to laugh and take part.

My son came away from the lesson smiling and it meant an awful lot to me as a parent that the teachers are not just focussing on the lesson plan in front of them, but are lifting morale too. I know this is an extremely hard time for the teachers and their support is very much appreciated.’


ABOVE: Year 11 student Molly Kirk hard at work at home. 
(Photo credit: Ellie Kirk)

BELOW: Each student in the school has received a Remote Learning Resources Pack, containing workbooks, useful documents, stationery and a reading book. Eagle-eyed readers may spot the names of authors Annabel Pitcher and Rob Lloyd-Jones who jointly visited the school last February to work with students. Related article: Award-winning authors visit Withernsea High School