Learning Under Lockdown: Back to school

26 October 2020

Adam Annand, Speech Bubbles' National Lead, tells us about their experience of going back into schools post-lockdown and shares his tips for other arts practitioners

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Image credit: Ina Fassbender via Politico/Getty Images

Speech Bubbles has gone back to school! Hooray! We have started a little later than usual and with a few different rules than we are used to, but we are back. Well, I say we are back. In some cases we are back, in some cases we are not quite back yet, and in others we are going to be taking a year out. So, what does ‘being back’ look like…?

Nearly normal!

We have a number of schools that fit into this category. In these schools we have adapted our programme to a blended mode. This means all the staff training is delivered online and the work with the children is delivered face to face. In this case, the drama practitioner has to adapt their practice to keep both themselves and the children safe.

What does this mean in practice? Here are some tips for other practitioners planning school visits:

  1. Follow all the basic rules: don’t turn up with symptoms, wash hands on arrival and between groups, and limit movement around the school. In each case a school-specific Risk Assessment has been drawn up.
  2. Wear a communication friendly face mask: these masks have a clear plastic piece over the mouth to promote better communication
  3. Keep all resources in school: everything that is needed to deliver Speech Bubbles was sent to the school at the beginning of term and will remain there
  4. Work with children within their school ‘bubble’: children are referred to the groups from within their own school ‘bubble’ so they are free to be with each other without physical distancing. This is a big change for us as referrals were previously from across KS1 with a preference for mixed year 1 and year 2 groups.
  5. No mascots: this one is a Speech Bubbles-specific issue. In pre-covid times we would pass a cuddly toy around the group at the beginning and the end of the session – not now! Of course, the great thing about drama is we can imagine things, so we now pass an imaginary mascot around and the children seem completely happy with that!
  6. Maintain a physical distance from the children: our drama practitioners aim to keep two metres distance where space will allow, but compromise with one metre plus if necessary

Some feedback from our drama practitioners:

Great to be back – the children are so excited to be in Speech Bubbles
I don’t like working in this mask… I know I have to but I don’t like it
It seems like that this group need more support with social interaction… not sure though if that is due to COVID-19 or just this group!
School have been great – everything was so organised
I missed the chance to build rapport with my teaching assistant at the training day – just wasn’t the same doing it online
I did have one funny mask moment. The children were walking around being princes and I wondered aloud what princes might like to do. Ideas included: “be in a castle”, “fight dragons”, “laugh”. We tried all these out before I asked them to freeze in a prince pose. One child’s eyes lit up. As everyone froze around him, he quickly dug his hand into his pocket, brought out his mask, put it on and struck his pose. His mask was a part of the Prince’s wardrobe just as it was now a part of his own!
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Image credit: Amelia Bird

Going online

We are expecting Speech Bubbles to be in 42 schools this year. In two cases we are starting by delivering the programme online, and only one of those schools has gone back so far – this is in a specialist setting for children on the autistic spectrum. In this case, the school staff have lots of experience supporting Speech Bubbles and the children all know Alison the drama practitioner. The school staff gather the Speech Bubbles group and Alison appears on screen. She then leads all of the standard activities and the school staff are responsible for focussing on and supporting the children.

Feedback from Alison:

It’s going well the staff are really supportive and I think it really helps that I know the children and they recognise me. I just can’t manage the engagement in the ways I normally would so have to leave that side of it up to the school staff. I am looking forward to getting back in person

Delayed start

We have a considerable number of schools that are due to start back after half term, and we have capacity to start working with some new schools in January.

Why the delay? Some of the reasons for a delayed return to school included:

  • Schools were just not ready. School senior leadership teams have been under intense pressure to get their schools up and running safely with a dizzying array of changing guidance
  • Schools wanted to wait to assess how their children had returned to school. Some children had come back to school having thrived through the long lockdown summer, whereas other children needed more support. By waiting a few extra weeks, the schools were better able to refer the children that they thought would benefit the most
  • School budgets are precarious this year for a whole range of reasons – at the beginning of term we weren’t sure how much subsidy we were able to offer to schools bringing in Speech Bubbles. A few weeks in, and with additional emergency funding from the Communication Trust and Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we were able to offer the programme at a significantly lower cost

Not this year

Some schools have come back to us and said they will take a year off. Once again there are mixed reasons for this, including:

  • They have a risk assessment which leads them to conclude that they won’t be bringing in any visiting adults. This matches with the findings of the National Schools Survey carried out by the Arts Council England Bridge Network. In this survey many Headteachers said that they wouldn’t be doing visits or having visitors for much of this school year
  • They don’t have the budget this year to allocate to Speech Bubbles, even at the lower cost
  • This year they don’t feel they have the need for this intervention in KS1. This is standard practice – we regularly have schools that take a year out because they have different priority areas for supporting their children

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story – guidance is always changing, drama practitioners have only had a couple of sessions back so far, and the circumstances in individual schools are just that – individual! We’re aware that more adaptation may be required.

In a pre-covid year we would also have had two open sessions for parents and carers to attend with their children. At the moment that seems impossible, so we are thinking really hard about how we might make that connection with children’s families even if it can’t be face to face. Any support, advice or guidance on that is very welcome!

A last thought from one of our drama practitioners…

It was just joyful to be back in a room working with children again! I almost forgot what it felt like to sit in a circle and feel the energy of people being creative together


Speech Bubbles is a small group drama intervention for children in KS1 who are referred to support their communication, social interaction and wellbeing. It is delivered by London Bubble and our partners – Half Moon Theatre, Kazzum Arts, Immediate Theatre, Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, Peoplescape, North West Drama Service, M6 Theatre and Oldham Theatre workshop.

For London Bubble – Speech Bubbles will be delivered by the following Drama Practitioners this year: Alison Hale, Kat Gill, Lehni Lamide Davies, Tom Latham, Paul Andrew, Rebecca Milner, Ella Becker

Find out more about Speech Bubbles on their website, and follow them on Twitter here.

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Our Learning Under Lockdown blog series forms part of Reset – our programme of support in response to the pandemic.

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