How lessons learned from lockdown inspired new school transition project in Rochdale

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When the first lockdown began, Falinge Park was in a good position to adapt to remote learning.

For some time, students at the Rochdale secondary school had been using Chromebooks and the web-based Google Classroom system.

“This meant we weren’t stung as much as perhaps other schools were,” explains headteacher Janice Allen. “We were able to move quite quickly in supporting children’s digital connectivity.”

With every school experimenting with different methods of home schooling, the team at Falinge Park realised that live learning, led by a classroom teacher, was the approach that resulted in the greatest engagement from students.

“Oak National Academy is good, but it’s not your curriculum and it’s not your teachers,” says Janice.

The school swiftly set about creating its own online learning system, i-college, that would allow pupils to interact with their teachers, even when stuck at home.

And it soon became clear that such a system would have benefits that lasted far beyond the pandemic.

“We thought that it would work well for children who may be suffering from anxiety, who may be ill, or who may be struggling with school in some way,” says Janice. “It could also help children who had been excluded or had missed out on learning for some other reason.”

Beginning with Key Stage 4, a new base website was constructed, containing video lessons and exercises, all delivered by classroom teachers and closely aligned to the school’s curriculum.

We knew that it worked, having people connected over the summer holidays. And we knew that parents liked it, so we came up with the idea of extending the concept into our literacy provision, because words and communication are the most important things that we can do.

Janice Allen Headteacher, Falinge Park High School

The aim was to make i-college as accessible as possible, so that no student ever needs miss out on learning.

A dedicated team were tasked with building a new website, learning lessons along the way.

Content now includes pre-recorded videos, online quizzes which provide immediate feedback, and tasks which are submitted and marked which in turn improve pupils’ technical skills.

Once the base system was in place, the Falinge Park team began to look at how else it could be utilised.

In recent years, the school has worked with substance misuse charity Early Break on a project to improve the transition between primary and secondary. As part of the scheme, counsellors and practitioners from the charity work with vulnerable children during the summer holidays, offering a support for Year 6 pupils who may otherwise have struggled with the move into secondary education.

The scheme has been a big success, so Janice wondered how the concept could work with i-college.

“We knew that it worked, having people connected over the summer holidays. And we knew that parents liked it, so we came up with the idea of extending the concept into our literacy provision, because words and communication are the most important things that we can do.

It is hoped that if children’s vocabulary can be developed at an earlier stage, it will help the children across all subjects.

“We feel that if we can get them a little bit sooner, starting with Year 6, then that will help them because to access, for example, a GCSE science paper, you need an excellent vocabulary; to be able to answer an history question and get those strong grades, you need the vocabulary to be able to do that.”

Janice approached SHINE to fund a project that would see the school “taking the best of the things that we’ve done before”.

The idea was to use the new online system to link Year 6 pupils with teachers who will offer teaching and support during the holidays.

“We’ll have Year 6 teacher and a Falinge Park teacher working together through the summer term, putting together a scheme of learning, which will be placed on our i-college,” Janice explains.

“We then provide a Chromebook for all pupils in Year 6, with the two schools we are working with initially.

“And there’s a member of staff who works throughout the summer, working with the pupils every single day, phoning them up, making sure that they’re engaged with the work.”

Children with a low attendance record or other barriers to learning will be identified and given support to ensure they don’t “fall off the radar”.

It's one of the proudest things I've ever done is building this community link at the school. What I want to be able to do is demonstrate to other schools and other organisations that there is such value in working with communities and seeking out community partners, developing real partnerships that actually bridge communities.

Janice Allen Headteacher, Falinge Park High School

Those children taking part will spend around half-an-hour to an hour each day on the i-college lessons.

“One of my concerns about some summer schools is that they actually create more disadvantage, because you’re targeting children to stay behind for a certain period of time. For what reason? And how do those children feel?

“And I think there’s a place for summer to be a time for children to have fun as well for staff to unwind.

“So, while I understand the gap that grows over the summer, I don’t think it’s necessarily combated by just bringing children in for summer school.

“Our idea is for the children to do a little bit of work at home every day during the holidays, alongside regular contact with somebody from the secondary school. We feel that could be more effective and encourage more children to take part.

“Throughout the summer, they will both be seeing a teacher from their new school, but also a face from their primary school, so they keep that link.”

The experience of home lessons during Covid has shown the team at Falinge Park that parents have welcomed being involved in their child’s learning.

“We’ve not been too upset when parents have got involved, because it’s given us an opportunity to engage parents in learning and getting them to understand what’s taking place. With i-college we can develop that parental engagement.”

The project pilot will involve children from Falinge Park’s two biggest feeder primaries.

There are already very strong bonds between the schools, as Janice is governor at one and another member of staff is governor at the other. “It means we have a constant conversation taking place,” says Janice.

The SHINE project is part of wider efforts by Janice and her team, who have been working hard to build connections with parents, other schools, and the wider community in Rochdale.

“This idea of community school is just right at the heart of what we do,” she says. “We’ve had very good relationships before, but they’re better now, since the pandemic.

“We try to engage parents and ask them what they want, as opposed to assuming that we know everything.

“During the lockdowns, we had the headspace to be able to build our community link at the school. And that has gone phenomenally.

“For instance, we are part of Citizens UK and children from my school are presenting to Andy Burnham and the other mayoral candidates and what they what he should be doing about child poverty.

“We have built a partnership with a number of charitable organisations, including one called Action Together that facilitates links with grassroots organisations.

“It’s one of the proudest things I’ve ever done is building this community link at the school. What I want to be able to do is demonstrate to other schools and other organisations that there is such value in working with communities and seeking out community partners, developing real partnerships that actually bridge communities.

“Over the next few years, we want to bring something back into Rochdale. That sense of pride of place and also that partnership working that means we complement what each other is doing.”

“If we can bring communities together, and people are feeling more involved, more engaged and feeling they belong to something, then the upshot is that they attain, they get better grades, their vocabulary improves, and their reading age goes up. It actually has a really great end result in educational terms.”