3 June 2020

The College is absolutely delighted with how everyone at ‘Team Stoke Damerel’ has pulled together to overcome the challenges of COVID-19.

Lockdown has brought lots of challenges for staff, students, parents and carers, but from these challenges, the College has grown stronger.

Executive Principal Miss Frier said: “Probably the biggest plus out of this situation is that the mutual support and the student and parent relationship with the tutors has actually been strengthened. This is shown in the number of ‘thank you’ messages from parents and students, some of which are shared with permission on our website.

Around 40 of our 1,350 students have had access to onsite provision throughout the lockdown, with a rota of 15 staff. Our remaining students have continued their studies remotely - including a weekly telephone conversation with their tutor. We have brought in a range of measures to meet students’ educational and wellbeing needs and introduced extra activities to keep the sense of community spirit going while everyone is apart.

Students have followed a weekly timetable, as they would normally, and teachers have recorded lesson instruction videos. An email helpdesk is open every day for key subjects, and additional resources have been added to the College website. Chromebooks have been provided for students that need IT access and Year 10 and 12 students are starting to have live Google Classroom lessons each day to supplement their learning.

“What is really important is to keep students motivated and engaged,” said Miss Frier. “That is why we monitor their work each week, and reward those who have engaged in their learning. I have sent home over 1,000 ‘Best Work’ postcards in the post which students have been delighted to receive - we all love getting nice post land on our doorsteps. Likewise, those not so well motivated get a prompt and support in that weekly call from the tutor - it certainly supports parents to keep their children on track with their learning.”

Earlier this year, the College received widespread media publicity for our work around mental health and emotional wellbeing - one of the biggest challenges for all schools during COVID-19. Miss Frier says this part of the work during lockdown has been particularly important: “Students who have access to mentors, counsellors or staff keyworkers in school have continued to have support, through face to face, telephone or email to support their emotional wellbeing.

“We have also set up a daily helpdesk manned by our welfare team and counsellors - students can email in, and they will be contacted, and arrangements made for support. Some students have come into school to join our onsite students for creative and active sessions, and they have found this beneficial to have routine and activities to keep them occupied and supported.”

At the height of the lockdown, the College provided an activity pack of art materials and we have introduced ‘Ebooks and Audio Book of the Week’ for both students and families. And our ‘Fun Friday Challenge’ has really brought us all together and helped keep our community spirit going: “These have been great fun,” said Miss Frier. “A lot of students - and whole families - have got involved, from making rainbows for the NHS to sporty challenges and even doing a lip-sync of Bohemian Rhapsody!

“And throughout, we have shared the achievements of our students. One of our Year 11 students, Preston, raised over £500 for a local NHS charity by completing 7,500 sit-ups in 12 hours, and another Year 11 student, Bethany, has set up her own baking company, insured to sell to the public - I placed an order for cookies myself as a treat for the onsite staff last week! We have also shared students’ creative work on the website.”

Miss Frier added: “The feedback we have had from students and parents is incredibly positive and appreciative of the personal support for our students’ welfare, knowing that we are doing the best we can to ensure they do not fall behind with their studies. Our onsite provision has also gone down very well, to support our vulnerable students and those whose parents are keyworkers. This feedback is a terrific boost.”

The College is currently preparing for the limited return to school later this month. Miss Frier said: “We cannot wait to welcome students back soon - but only when it is safe to do so.  There is lots of planning happening as we speak, to make adjustments to our daily practice and to consider what transition arrangements we will put in place to help students adjust back to a routine of school.”

And she added: “School is just an empty building without the daily bustle of children and staff talking, smiling and chatting.  It has really shown just how much we need the students and they need us too.  It has emphasised once again the important role that schools play in binding our community.”