This is what 'virtual education' has been like for three primary schools in Sheffield

Staff and pupils at an academy trust in Sheffield have contributed to a video and written diary about schooling during lockdown. Laura Reid reports.

Thousands of children have been studying at home during the lockdown. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

When schools closed for all but vulnerable children and those of critical workers, primaries and secondaries across the country had to quickly adapt to a temporary ‘new normal’. For most, this has meant taking learning online whilst supporting youngsters still attending in their care.

At Sheffield-based academy chain Mercia Learning Trust, staff and students at Totley, Valley Park and Nether Edge primaries have contributed to a video and written diary showing what a typical day has been like in what they call “a virtual primary school”.

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Each school has been setting learning for children and families at home. Totley and Nether Edge pupils who need to be in school have been attending one of the trust’s secondaries – King Ecgbert, whilst Valley Park has remained open for those eligible.

In one written diary entry, Chris Atkinson, assistant head at Totley Primary, talks about being 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,” he says. “We start with Joe Wicks’ PE lesson, an energetic start to the day, and one we can all enjoy.”

Next, it’s onto phonics, before the children crack on with the home learning packs that their peers have also been given to work on away from the classroom.

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There’s then maths, English and reading before lunch and an afternoon of crafts, followed by a film for those picked up latest in the day. “At pick up, every parent has said thank you, without fail,” Chris writes.

“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.”

In another entry, Rebecca Lane, a teacher at Valley Park, records her day, starting with marking tasks from the day before and replying to messages from parents. At 9am, she says she then opens ‘the virtual classroom’ - the school is using software called ClassDojo, to set daily learning, which teachers can check and mark.

She ropes in her 12-year-old to help her film some video content to upload to the site for her class. After lunch in the garden with her family, “I post a task for the afternoon for the class to complete,” she writes. “Then I chase a few children who have not submitted any work yet and finish marking what has been submitted.”

Her last task is sorting resources and activities for the following day, as the virtual classroom is closed at 3pm. “The children and their parents have been great today, again, in these very bizarre times,” she says.

Trust marketing manager Abi Merritt says the schools wanted to capture their ‘day-in-the-life’ stories to show how everyone has adapted to a new way of learning, highlighting both challenges and opportunities.

“The concept of teaching and learning from home is so alien to a lot of people. Because of this, it was great to be able to show the community what it looks like in real life, and how our schools are achieving the seemingly impossible, with great success.”

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