Face-to-face contact between staff, pupils and parents pays dividends for Manchester high school during lockdown

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Through knocking on doors, speaking directly to pupils, we’re able to show children who have previously been disengaged with school the importance of their education.

Gareth Jones Senior Assistant Headteacher

Regular face-to-face contact between staff, pupils and parents has been paying dividends for a Manchester high school.

Since lockdown began, staff from St Matthew’s Roman Catholic High School in Moston have carried out 960 home visits to the families of their most vulnerable pupils.

“The pupils we’ve identified as vulnerable are being contacted on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis,” explained Gareth Jones, Senior Assistant Headteacher at St Matthews.

“Staff are carrying out regular home visits, which are done on the doorstep, within social distancing rules. This means we can have face-to-face conversations with the pupils; we are able to talk to them about their emotions and their concerns.

“Most importantly, it’s about making sure the pupils have got somebody to speak to, and it’s worked well. It’s establishing that relationship between pupils and staff.

The Easter Bunny lifted morale during lockdown

“Through knocking on doors, speaking directly to pupils, we’re able to show children who have previously been disengaged with school the importance of their education.

“We’ve been getting them engaged in their schoolwork and we’ve also been getting them into good routines; getting them up at the start of the day, impressing on them the importance of having breakfast; the basic things that set them up for learning.”

Thanks to regular check-ins with the children, staff have been able to monitor the work that children are doing at home.

“They have work packs, which are being completed by the pupils and then we’ve had follow-up conversations with both the pupils and the parents.

“If we were just phoning these children, it would not be so effective. Those face-to-face conversations are so important.

The staff have not only delivered work packs; each week they have also put together goody bags to take out to families. And at Easter, one of the team dressed as the Easter Bunny and delivered Easter eggs. This proved a huge success with children and the wider community, lifting morale at a difficult time.

Staff have also been able to advise parents on issues such as benefits payments, and health care.

“We’ve been offering support through things like early health referrals, based on conversations on the doorsteps,” said Gareth.

“And I’ve been out on home visits, for example, where I’ve delivered sanitary products and toiletries. We want to make sure the pupils are keeping healthy.

“The main priority for us is the social and emotional side, making sure that the relationships with the pupils and parents are good.”

And the regular face-to-face contact has healed any divide that may have existed previously.

“Any barriers there were before between parents and teachers have been completely eroded,” said Gareth. “The parents just really appreciate all the support that they’re receiving. Any contact has been welcomed – they’ve really valued it and they’ve been positive.”

The school has received some amazing feedback from both parents and children.

“Without the support from Mrs Shaw and Ms White we couldn’t have got through this strange time,” one parent told the school.

Another said: “Staff at St Matthew’s have been fantastic helping me with all my benefits as things have been sorted out.”

A third parent commented: “Mrs Shaw makes my daughter’s day as she waits for her visits as they help to keep her going.”

Meanwhile, one of the pupils receiving home visits said: “I feel that Ms Shaw and Ms White support me and my family, which helps a lot.”

Another child commented: “I have enjoyed doing my SEMH packs as this helps me think about my feelings.”

A third said: “We loved the Easter Bunny visit! It cheered my family up.”

“If we can continue to develop those relationships when the pupils are integrated back into school, it will make school life much easier,” said Gareth.

“We’ll definitely work to maintain the relationships that have been built up with members of staff and make sure that members of staff keep in contact with the families.”

There are going to be ups and downs when this is all over. With the disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs, the attainment gap is going to be quite big but because of the way we have engaged with families, there will be some positives going forward; it’s not all doom and gloom.

Gareth Jones Senior Assistant Headteacher

When the school reopens to all students, a priority will be mental health and wellbeing.

“We’ll be speaking to the children to address any concerns, and to find out it there have been any bereavements. We will look to get them the support that’s needed for their social and emotional wellbeing; to make sure they’re healthy.

“There are going to be ups and downs when this is all over. With the disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs, the attainment gap is going to be quite big but because of the way we have engaged with families, there will be some positives going forward; it’s not all doom and gloom.”

One of the other positives to come out of the crisis has been partnership working with outside agencies and other schools.

St Matthew’s is working in collaboration with a National Teaching School, and those links have been strengthened in recent months.

“Normally we would meet every half term, but we’ve been meeting every two weeks,” Gareth explained. “There has been an increase in collaborative thinking and a lot more sharing of ideas and resources.

“That collaboration has been a really big part of being in lockdown. Working together, sharing ideas; it has really helped.