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Schools at the heart of support for young people and communities

Ian Parry, Headteacher of Meols Cop High School, Southport shares his experiences rising to the challenges of lockdown, delivering support to young people and the local community and adapting careers guidance for the new normal. 

Even as it became inevitable, I think we were still shocked to know that we would actually close the doors of our school to the majority of our children.

We could imagine an extra two weeks at Easter, but a prolonged closure? This was definitely unheard of - unprepared for.

We had no books to consult and absolutely no unit on the NPQ training. And yet, we formed a plan. I still have the photograph of the whiteboard in my office with our first draft. One - how do we communicate the message, two - how we continue to educate and three - how do we continue to support our most vulnerable.

In the months that followed we moved to teaching 80% of our students using Microsoft Teams. We utilised research from the EEF to ensure that the quality of provision, support and feedback was the driving force and allowed for blended programmes of study including some live lessons, coaching, knowledge consolidation and extended projects.

We also found ourselves printing and hand delivering work packs to over 100 students every fortnight to supplement the limited access to technology that quickly became apparent as a barrier across the country.

What became clear was that we could recreate the learning for our children, but could we recreate our school? School is often a consistent factor in the lives of our young people and in this time of great uncertainty for all of us this has been a monumental challenge. It is also now clear just how important our role is in our local communities.

When families have needed advice and support it has been the schools that have responded. When families have needed support with food, it has been the schools that have sourced, coordinated and delivered food parcels and shopping vouchers. We even found ourselves donating science goggles to care homes and using our DT facilities to produce PPE for our communities.

Amongst so many other worries, I feel a real sense of loss for students who finished year 11 and 13. So many moments, rights of passage that we skipped over. But most significantly, the challenge has been ensuring they have had the right guidance and support against a national press backdrop of confusion and turmoil.

We have all had to work closely with our colleges and sent out joint messaging in the form of letters and social media to ensure that the students and families had some sense of support and clarity.

So, what comes next? We hear a great deal about preparing for the new normal but what has become more evident in recent weeks is that we are still amid the pandemic with an ever-changing situation.

The young people returning to our schools have been amazing and have shown that they are adaptable and resilient. Now we must give them purpose.

More than ever careers support and guidance will play a critical role. Our students have so many questions and conflicting messages yet focusing on their futures is important for so many reasons. Preparing students for jobs not yet created, to solve problems not yet problems, using technology not yet invented has never meant more.

The opportunity for us as educators to be part of the solution and work with employers in reimagining the other side of this pandemic is essential. The way we work may have changed forever and we have a unique opportunity to work with growth sectors to build the ‘new normal’.

Visit our new Resource Directory and Careers in Context Can Do Guide.