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Cirencester Deer Park School

Cirencester Deer Park School

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Teaching in the time of COVID

Teaching in the time of COVID

This September/October 2020 term  has been very different for staff and pupils and definitely like no other. However, we are all determined to make the most of the ‘new normal’. We commend everyone on the parts they are playing in helping us ensure learning can continue with both challenge and pace and ask for patience as we reset our expectations of each other.

We have all had to adapt to new routines, most recently the wearing of face coverings in corridors and indoor communal spaces, and teach and learn outside of our comfort zones. Because of our preventative measures and the need to operate within the guidance provided by the government, teachers have had to change their practice and find new and innovative ways of doing even the simplest of tasks! True to our mantra, we are all trying to be the best we can be.

‘One thing that I have introduced with my classes this year has been the use of these visual tools below to help check understanding on quick retrieval quizzes. It is a good way to have a quick progress check and can also link in nicely to key concepts, misconception busting and classification.’ Miss Lillington, Geography. 

check understanding

With pupils predominantly confined to their year group home bases, one of the most significant changes is the movement of teachers around the school site.

Our specialist teachers are detached from their faculty offices and familiar classrooms. They are peripatetic and their step counts have definitely increased! They are carrying all of their books and equipment and adjusting to different technology setups and classroom layouts. Logging on and off takes time and we are all grateful to our pupils for their patience, support and understanding.

teacher movement


teaching from front

All teachers in the school are now expected to operate from the front of the classroom and, ideally, maintain a physical distance of 2m from each other and our pupils. This means that most teachers are confined to a narrow space marked out as a reminder with white tape and are unable to move around the room as freely as they would have been able to previously.

Similarly, with the exception of some subjects such as PE and Drama where there are different wipe down routines, reciprocal activities such as pair and group work in most subjects are no longer able to take place as all pupils are now seated in rows and are expected to face the front. However, rich and deep questioning ensures pupils and teachers are still able to engage in discussion and debate.

‘The biggest challenge (apart from moving from classroom to classroom) is not being able to move around the room and check on individual pupils’ work or speak 1:1 with a pupil. When someone needs help I get them to come to a spare table at the front; they stay on one side and I stay on the other and I explain at a distance.’ Miss Charlesworth, Assistant Head and Science Teacher

As we anticipated, most lessons are more instructional and, while teachers are making their best efforts to ensure they are engaging, pupils now need to listen more and make notes. Where teachers have been required to self-isolate and are well, we have piloted the use of MS Teams and I am grateful to Mrs Mabbott (History) and Mrs Voss (English) for teaching some of their classes remotely. With the aid of our cover supervisors, they have been beamed into our classrooms! Our teaching assistants are still a presence and are providing ‘over the shoulder’ support.

teaching via ms teams


Similarly, as a result of being less 'agile' in the classroom, teachers are finding new ways of responding to needs, providing feedback and marking pupils’ work. This may take a little longer than usual as teachers may need to change their seating plans to enable them to access those who may need greater assistance and exercise books need to go into a short period of quarantine before and after marking. Members of the school’s leadership team are routinely dropping into each home base and we have seen some very effective practice. For example, the use of visualisers is enabling teachers to model answers, share pupils’ work and record sequences of learning.

using visualiser

using visualiser

In October, after an initial supportive re-settling period, teachers have been undertaking baseline assessments. These have focused on what has been taught so far this term as well as what was studied remotely during the period of lockdown. They are designed to help us understand what pupils know and don’t know, and to inform teachers’ planning. They may also lead to some re-grouping.

‘I am really missing not being able to see what the pupils are completing in their Maths books. So, while assessments have taken place this week, I have worn surgical gloves and had a quick look through exercise books while the pupils completed their tests. I was generally very pleased with the standard of work I saw and hope the brief comments I was able to write served as an encouragement.’ Mrs Pennington, Head of Maths

Another of the frustrations this term has been the incompletion of homework by some pupils who cannot afford to fall behind. These homework activities often consolidate understanding or plan for future learning. Unfortunately, not all of our pupils are coming to school prepared and we remain concerned to promote and support good independent study habits, not least to engender curiosity. Independent learning is also a critical feature of our remote learning plan launched last week.

show my homework



A day in the life of a PE Teacher: Miss Blacker 

‘Before the pandemic, one class was in a single changing room but these have now been split in half so there are no more than 15 people in each which makes taking the register more time consuming. Ensuring the changing room groups are split alphabetically down the register means this can be done more efficiently. 

Also, at the beginning of every lesson, each pupil must be given a wipe to disinfect their changing area from the previous class which increases their changing time and reduces activity time. This has been overcome by giving pupils a wipe as their name is called for the register so they are staying socially distant and not tripping over each other for the wipes. These are then put in a specific bin in the corridor. 

At the end of each lesson the handled equipment is disinfected with either wipes or disinfectant spray which also reduces activity time. This is overcome by taking the cleaning items out in preparation and sharing the cleaning across the class so it is done quickly. Each year group also has their own set of balls so they aren't being cross contaminated across bubbles. 

Lastly, the bibs that are being used are washed after every lesson to minimise contamination. The washing machine and tumble dryer are constantly running! It can be time consuming organising netball bibs into sets at the end of every day but we have been taking it in turns.’

A day in the life of a Head of Faculty: Dr Tipping 

‘1) Up at 5.20. Usual routines plus preparing all of the drinks and food I'll need for the day.  The prep room can't accommodate all of us with the new guidelines so I take breaks alone without imposing on the facilities that the other staff use.

2) 7.40 ish - arrival at school. Antibacterial-wipe window handles, door handles, computer keyboard, mouse etc. Open door and windows in lab to ensure ventilation. We're teaching in cold rooms most of the time. Wipe down door handles and surfaces of office where cleaner may have been in.

3) Check lessons for the day, and well as writing cover lessons for absent colleagues. Teaching most Science lessons out of my faculty, without the kit or resources that we normally use. Requires more planning to ensure that everything will dovetail together. When we are in a lab we have to teach the lessons out of order to make the most of that opportunity. Practical kit must be cleaned or quarantined before or after use. The technicians keep track of this, but it is time-consuming. Practical activities must be carefully planned to minimise kit use, contact and movement within the room. Textbooks are earmarked for specific year groups for cover lessons and the dates that they have been used are noted.

4) Deliver lessons: ensuring the content is engaging despite being largely theoretical while controlling up to 30 teenagers from the front of the class. Teaching pupils in bubbles helps to protect the pupils and their families, but staff are moving all around the school. Every new room presents a risk of infection, putting our own families at greater risk.

5) Breaks are short and often involve moving between buildings. Sometimes there's barely time to have a break, especially if we're checking lessons. Lunches are eaten in haste with an eye on the clock. If pupils need to be spoken to for any reason, lunchtime is eroded further. I barely see my colleagues during the day now.

6) Test marking after school. Tests are stored for a few days or marked with a mask and gloves. I'm also marking the tests of absent colleagues.  

7) The ongoing and invisible risk of COVID is ever-present. Many in the Science Faculty are very tired by the end of the day which means that work builds up. The prolonged concentration of simultaneously teaching the content, distant class control and COVID is psychologically very draining. I think I'm pretty resilient but this is tough going. I'm spending a lot of time in discussions with less experienced staff. They are finding their nomadic existence and disciplining without immediate sanctions very challenging.’

One of our Year 7 parents commented on how impressed she was to read about our remote learning plan: 'My eldest son has recently started in Year 7 and it is so reassuring as a “newbie” to secondary school to hear about the plans you have in place for every possible scenario. I can only imagine the effort that has gone on behind the scenes to present such a clear and concise plan and just wanted your personal efforts, and that of your team, to be commended. The reassurance and confidence I now have that my son (who has settled so well at his new school) will be able to continue seamlessly with his learning should any form of lockdown/quarantine be required is a real boost.'