Learning Under Lockdown: Willow Nursery & Preston Manor

13 May 2020

We spoke to two educational settings covering early years up to secondary age to find out more about their experiences of lockdown & their tips for other teachers

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My name is Keir Crawley and I am Head of Performing Arts at Preston Manor School. I have worked in the school for over twenty years, primarily teaching Music and occasionally Drama and RE. I also run The Preston Manor Music Academy, the school’s triple award winning Saturday community music provision. Preston Manor is an all through school with students from reception up to sixth form.

My name is Alicia Marco-Agulló and I am a practitioner at Willow Nursery which is based on Chalkhill Estate, Wembley Park. We are based in a phase one children’s centre, which was set up by the government in the most deprived areas of the borough. The children who attend our setting are aged from 6 months – 5 years, and many of our children reside in this locality. We have children who come to us with social needs such as child protection, economic hardship as well as children with severe complex needs, such as autism, short life expectancy illnesses and Down's Syndrome.

Is your school closed during lockdown?

Preston Manor

Preston Manor remains open to the children of key workers. While in school, the students complete a range of tasks set by their class teachers using Google Classroom. The tasks are designed to balance maintaining educational progress with creative opportunities and wellbeing. Currently all staff are on a rota to supervise the students whilst on site – helping them with their work if needed and joining in with outdoor games and activities at break and play times for children in the lower school. Current guidance on social distancing and other health and safety protocols are of course being strictly adhered to.

Willow Nursery

As a nursery, we are open. We looked at our occupancy, decided the children that are eligible to come, informed parents of the situation (who is/isn’t eligible), and then, according to the number of children, we changed our staff rota so that some staff come to the nursery whilst the rest work from home.

What are your main priorities and challenges at the moment?

Preston Manor

It has been said that it takes a community to raise a child, and certainly it needs a community to educate one. Our priorities, alongside finding ways of maintaining educational progress, are to preserve our sense of community and our unique sense of identity. What it is to belong to Preston Manor remains at our core. The social and emotional wellbeing of our school community, which includes students of all ages and staff – not just teaching staff working within school – is as important as continuing our mission statement of making school memorable by striving for excellence.

Willow Nursery

Our main priority is vulnerable children. We try to ensure that they are safe, and their needs are met. We also try to keep our employees safe whilst meeting the government requirements. Other priorities were to thoroughly clean everything and follow a good standard of hygiene.

The biggest challenges for our nursery may be trying to keep a reasonable routine in place and as well as keeping in contact with the community.

Performing arts can do what it does best; provide a different way of learning, nurture creativity, be engaging and enjoyable and bring people together even if they have to stay physically apart for the moment
– Keir Crawley, Preston Manor School

How are you approaching learning in lockdown?

Preston Manor

Currently we are teaching using Google Classroom, a platform that has always been available to us but is now getting much more use! We are looking to help families maintain a routine that works for them at home by ensuring that the work (in whatever form that may come) is set by the morning of the day that the lesson would take place, according to a timetable.

Families can then track what has been set and when it is due by logging into Go 4 Schools – another platform that we have always used but has become more important at present. We have provided Chromebooks where they are needed for our most vulnerable students, and where internet access is problematic paper packs are being posted home to students.

It is important that both staff and students continued to feel that their contribution is valued. For students, that might be ‘praise points’, emails to parents, or virtual assembly ‘shout outs’ for completing work or helping other members of the class with their work.

For staff, this might be opportunities to make contact with colleagues to talk about other challenges they face other than schoolwork, a contribution to a weekly online teaching and learning briefing, or a thank you email or text from a line manager or senior member of staff.

Willow Nursery

For those in the nursery, we try to keep the same daily routine for the children; doing activities, and spending time in the garden. Creative learning activities have carried on as usual based on our observations of the children’s interests, and we’ve also added some other activities related to the situation that we are living under right now.

Having few children and more staff has abled us to support children with their learning and development as we can now provide one-to-one support. We are also focusing more on the love to our neighbours and respecting nature.

For remote learning at home, we researched activities that parents can do. We set work and send parents website links with activities, and have started videotaping storytelling and bucket time to share with them.

Willow Nursery is also providing food packs and vouchers for families that need it and we have dropped off Easter gifts.

How did the school decide on your lockdown plan?

Preston Manor

We have always had a research-led approach to all aspects of school life which runs alongside the guidance and protocol issued by the more traditional authorities. We already had our digital platforms in place, and as a lockdown scenario looked more likely we aimed to ensure that teachers were confident in the basic use of these before work transferred to home. Five weeks into remote teaching and learning, staff at all levels of the school are offering advice and informal extra training to colleagues as needed.

Another important aspect of what it means to be at Preston Manor is our staff-led CPD programme. As a ‘flat’ school there are always opportunities for staff at all levels within the school to seek advice, guidance and share best practice on a range of challenges and issues. The support of our parents who have suddenly become teachers is also important. We are currently engaged in seeking feedback to help us inform our practise as we move our school community forward during lockdown.

Willow Nursery

All the contact details (service users and employees) were checked and updated to make sure that we are able to contact everybody. We are in regular contact with parents and families on a weekly basis, sending them information regarding services that are available in the community and updating them with news and guidelines from the government about the coronavirus.

We liaised with our IT department to be able to use different kind of communication tools in order to best communicate with other colleagues without close contact. We are following an email chain to share recipes with colleagues, and are providing a link for parents and teachers with free printable resources for nursery and primary school.

We also created an emergency plan folder to keep all relevant documents under one file, and regularly review our plan to see how we can improve it.

What specific challenges have you experienced during lockdown?

Preston Manor

How do we develop our remote community whilst planning for a future return? In what ways can we teach remotely, without necessarily teaching live?

These two main questions bring us to further points for reflection: what do we need to think about in terms of the curriculum? What good departmental practice is taking place already and how can we develop this? What CPD do we need?

As primarily a music teacher, my main concern has been to try and facilitate ways for the pupils' remote lessons to develop creativity while still having a musical outcome. This isn’t an easy goal! For a number of reasons many families may not have a musical instrument at home, so I have turned to online virtual keyboards, free composition software and percussion that might be found in the kitchen as an alternative. I feel sure that many music educators, perhaps to the frustration of parents, have turned to Samba on pots and pans as a viable alternative to what is currently out of use in their classrooms!

What are your top tips for other teachers in lockdown?

Preston Manor

  1. Continue to find ways to foster a love of learning in students and staff – better never stops!
  2. Remember to make time for yourselves and your families – be kind, be safe, be prepared
  3. There are no right answers at the moment – we are all in this together and together we stand stronger

Willow Nursery

We are arranging video calls via WhatsApp with the children chatting and doing singing and reading activities with those that are willing to. Some children are so happy to see us. Our families are really appreciating it and the children love it.


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