Learning under lockdown: Jack Tizard School

Art teacher Jonathan Cassels tells us about his experience of teaching during lockdown at a special school, and shares his top tips for teachers

29 June 2020

Image credit: Jack Tizard School via Facebook

My name is Jonathan Cassels, I am the art teacher at Jack Tizard, a special school in the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. The school provides specialist education for pupils with a wide range of learning disabilities including PMLD, SLD, Complex Health Needs & autism. The majority of our pupils are non-verbal, and a high percentage are dependent on adults to meet all their needs.

The school has been part of the Artsmark community for many years, and we have recently achieved Artsmark Gold. We have also been involved in A New Direction's I Am Festival for the last four years.

Has your school been closed during lockdown?

The decision was made to close the school on 17th March just prior to the official school closures. Jack Tizard has many pupils with complex health needs and it was judged to be too great a risk to them for the school to remain open. There were only a couple of children who have key worker parents and, in both cases, the parents preferred to keep their children at home.

The school remained closed to pupils until early June, when we began provision for some pupils on a part time basis. The school has been open for teaching staff and therapy teams, but teachers were encouraged to work from home as much as possible.

What are your main priorities at the moment?

The wellbeing and safety of pupils, families and staff has been the primary concern. Finding new and meaningful ways of supporting staff, pupils and families through the loss of loved ones at a distance has been a particular challenge.

The school has maintained regular contact with parents, providing them with information and support as much as possible under difficult circumstances. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) have had regular meetings to assess if and when the school could reopen safely for pupils, and agree strategies to support remote learning until the situation changes. Other priorities have been creating resources that are both practical for parents to use at home and meaningful for the children.

The school organised food vouchers for those pupils in receipt of free school meals, as set out by the education department’s school meals voucher scheme. Teachers have liaised with parents to try and provide learning resources including loans of IT equipment. The school’s therapy teams have also provided specialist equipment and support for pupils.

Some school staff were deployed to other settings such as care homes and children’s centres, and have provided support for families at home.

How are you approaching learning in lockdown?

The Senior Leadership Team and teachers have made weekly phone calls to families and organised delivery of shopping, learning resources and PPE.

Teachers have been contacting parents on a weekly basis and have provided learning resource packs for pupils and their families according to their differing needs. This has ranged from providing lessons and activity sheets, to supplying necessary materials for parents to support their child’s learning at home.

Teachers have also supported parents and pupils in accessing online learning resources via the school’s website. Some teachers have begun using Google Classroom and have delivered lessons to groups of those pupils who have been able to sign up to the platform. A school YouTube channel has been established and become very popular with pupils and their families. Videos created by school staff are being posted daily on topics ranging from cookery, sensory art, music and storytelling. Zoom and Facetime calls have been made for some pupils where appropriate and staff have spoken to some pupils on the phone at times.

How did the school decide on your lockdown plan?

The SLT held a number of meetings to look at the best way forward in terms of supporting learning. We initially began with the practical resources which parents could use immediately, then moved on to setting up the videos on YouTube. Google Classroom for pupils is a recent introduction and has also involved other professionals from different partnerships, such as music lessons from Music House.

Microsoft Teams has been used all the way through to facilitate meetings amongst the SLT and also to enable teachers to attend Child Protection and related meetings remotely. We have benefited from having a highly experienced IT manager, who has provided support all the way through, and has enabled teachers to have remote access to their work on school’s IT system.

What do you think have been the biggest challenges to your school under lockdown?

The biggest challenge has been continuing to safeguard and support the wellbeing of pupils and families remotely, knowing the challenging circumstances that some face every day. This includes the wellbeing of school staff, who also have had to adjust to the abrupt end to the routine of attending school, and recognising the part they play as a component of a very close and supportive community.

Ensuring that everyone in that community is coping with the change has been a massive challenge. Further problems we had to overcome were ensuring adequate provision of resources to lend to families and making sure those who need communication devices or IT equipment had access to them.

The school has adapted by reaching out to families in their homes to support them in a number of ways, including assistance with accessing increased social care packages, and applying to a charity for funds to help provide tablets and communication aids that can be loaned to pupils during lockdown, and accessed by families during holidays.

Comprehensive risk assessments have been carried out for every child in consultation with parents, and the SLT have maintained a weekly Red, Amber, Green rated audit of each pupil and family’s current needs and wellbeing.

In addition to this, senior managers have kept in regular contact with staff too, to see how they are managing under lockdown and check whether there is anything they can do to help.

What will your priorities be when school re-opens?

The collective experiences of pupils when attending school is the most significant loss during lockdown; the routine of seeing familiar faces in a safe place that provides experiences that are interesting, engaging and fun throughout the school day must be missed greatly.

I am sure most parents would agree that remote lessons are no substitute for the care that their children receive in school. Unfortunately the dedication that school staff put into that care cannot be condensed into a remote lesson or learning pack.

Returning to school will be very different after a long period of isolation, and focussing on play, wellbeing and everyone’s emotional health need to be our first priorities on returning to school.

As an art teacher, what plans do you have for the summer term?

As an art teacher, I thought the best thing I can provide is simple, easy to follow activity sheets on a range of creative activities. I was able to put together creative resource packs that supported these activity sheets and offered these to families to use at home.

This summer term we are missing the opportunity to show the pupils artworks in the school’s annual summer exhibition. Ideally, I would like to create an online gallery of pupils work created during the year on the schools website. This could be complemented with photos of the children’s artworks that they have been making with their families at home.

What are your top tips for other teachers in lockdown?

  • Going into school and organising resource packs helped me to feel some semblance of normality and that I was contributing something useful for pupils and their families
  • I found the Sensory Projects website to be a useful resource that has links to other sites that are specific to supporting the education of SEND pupils, and inspired me to create my own activity sheets that are now available to download on Jack Tizard School’s website
  • The Tate Kids website was also useful, which has lots of online resources and more ideas for creative activities
  • I have kept in touch with A New Direction’s SEND Network too on Microsoft Teams, where members of the group have been sharing resources and information on the arts education in lockdown

More Learning Under Lockdown blogs

This blog is part of I Am At Home Festival – a unique online celebration of creativity with SEND settings and disabled-led organisations. Find more blogs, resources, videos and events on the festival web page.

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