Posted on July 1st 2020
20 strategies for getting vulnerable pupils into school during lockdown
All schools, including our own, have grappled with getting as many vulnerable children into school as possible during lockdown.
With thanks to Harris Academy Battersea, Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich, Harris Academy Greenwich, Harris Academy St John’s Wood, Harris Academy Peckham and Harris Academy Tottenham, here are twenty ideas that have worked for some of our secondary schools.
Contact, contact and more contact:
- From Day One of lockdown, pupils were telephoned every day by the same person to build their trust.
- Home visits where necessary to support families and talk to them about the special opportunity to attend school and continue learning with familiar teachers.
- Giving tutors and other staff speaking to pupils the freedom to refer them for places in our provision.
Giving pupils who came in a warm welcome, and making sure they really like the time they are able to spend with their teachers. Ideas included:
- Free breakfast and lunch throughout.
- Daily wellbeing, creative, play and sports sessions – and counsellors present at school on the majority of days.
- Offering a strong and broad curriculum taught by outstanding specialist teachers that would vary across the week so that the provision felt similar to what pupils were used to in school.
- Creating a sense of difference during half term, with holiday camp-style activities on offer.
- Ensuring one-to-one time with teachers for pupils.
Creating a sense of community:
- Asking pupils to help with special projects, such as preparing breakfast boxes or making a rainbow.
- Rewards and competitions.
- As much consistency of staff as possible, to help build their confidence and their sense of feeling safe.
Reassurance, with various strategies to ensure pupils could trust us with their safety and feel confident they would get outstanding teaching if they came in:
- Inviting pupils for a tour, or simply allowing them to have a taster morning to help them see how well everything worked and to relieve any anxiety they were feeling about being in school when everything else was locked down.
- Saying ‘yes’ when parents were struggling and got in touch to ask if we could help in some way.
- Asking pupils who attended to share their experiences with others.
- Using online assemblies to showcase the work going on.
Persuading parents of the value of our sessions by:
- Inviting pupils in by phone, often with a member of the Senior Leadership Team making the call to their parents – stressing how pleased we were to be able to offer them one of our limited slots.
- Weekly phone calls and emails to remind them of the provision and their children’s entitlement to it.
- Speaking to parents/carers who collect breakfasts and delivering food and meals to houses encouraging them to attend.
- Sharing data about engagement with online lessons, so parents could see where their children were at risk of falling behind if they did not come into school.
- Gaining the support of the children’s social workers to encourage them to come into school.
Mr Soar is Executive Principal of Harris Academy St John’s Wood and Harris Academy Tottenham. He writes:
“Both my schools have a high proportion of pupils who were eligible to continue coming in during lockdown and we were keen to do as much as we could to encourage them. Regular and meaningful engagement with parents and families, and with social workers, was key to this.
We knew from the outset that we would want to telephone all of our families at least weekly, but we also identified the pupils who we felt needed a daily phone call. Before lockdown, we gave all staff making the calls mobile telephones with routine monthly top ups. We tried to have the same members of staff calling each family and coupled this with home visits for some pupils.
Our Speech and Language therapists continued to provide sessions for children online, as did our counsellors who also saw pupils where necessary in socially distanced ways.
Staff were empowered to offer support with things like food for the family, or laptops, internet access and other essentials they needed. They were able to build a relationship and sense of trust, with children and parents able to ask for our help and support if they needed it and staff able to spot shifts in mood.
When it came to encouraging pupils to come back, we wanted them to feel special and lucky, not singled out or stigmatised. Language is important and many families and children would never identify as ‘vulnerable’, so we used the word ‘eligible’ instead to describe why they were coming in.
We were as flexible as possible, with no requirements on uniform so that pupils were able to wear fresh clothes as much as possible. We also amended start and finish times when this was needed. Pupils coming in knew what to expect in terms of change, through tweets, videos, pictures and letters.
Where pupils were returning after a long time off, we had a phased return to help them cope with this – starting off with a day or two in school and then scaling up as they became more confident.
We made the days enjoyable so pupils would want to come back, and also made sure that the additional safety measures in place – such as temperature checks and handwashing stations outside school – would make them feel safer rather than frightened! One of our young primary pupils has a passion for a particular science fiction movie character, so staff took on roles of creatures from this film at the school gate and used the infra-red thermometers as imaginary sci-fi testing. This made him feel part of a world that was safe rather than scary, and it was uplifting to see."