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Leading remotely: one Scottish headteacher’s perspective

Bryan McLachlan, headteacher of Carolside Primary School in East Renfrewshire, has provided us with a detailed insight into his experience of leading remotely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Below Bryan details the approaches that he and his staff have taken to address some of the challenges that have presented themselves. Bryan commented that:

These approaches are not a solution that will work for all but so far they are working well for us.

Supporting staff

  • Daily leadership team meetings by video conference - We have nine school leaders, so this daily catch-up has been valuable to us. It tends to follow the local authority’s daily briefing, which arrives around lunch-time each day.
  • Daily staff briefings by email - I prepare these each day for all members of staff. In our school that’s around 80 recipients. This offers some updates from the hub school, where a small number of staff are based, and reflects the wider messages shared by the local authority.
  • Remit changes - With a large leadership team we have slightly amended our duties to reflect current arrangements. These changes reflect the need for a remote approach to pastoral care and quality assurance, but ensure that the team don’t deviate from their remits.
  • Pastoral care - We have allocated each member of the leadership team a group of staff who they call on a fortnightly basis, just to catch up with them. This is particularly important to those with underlying health conditions and those who live alone.

Supporting children and their learning

  • Monitoring remote learning - Our teachers are using Google Classroom, so all members of the leadership team are all members of each of the ‘classrooms’ in our departments, meaning we have the status of a teacher on Google Classroom. Our school has 28 classes altogether, so monitoring these is important. Being classified as a teacher on Google Classroom allows the leadership team to be actively involved e.g. posting comments of encouragement onto the ‘classroom’ stream. Children receive daily literacy and numeracy tasks as well as weekly technologies, French and physical education tasks, so the team can see the engagement of children in these areas. Being a ‘teacher’ on Google Classroom also means that when the children submit work we can have an overview of this as it is all collated onto the Google Drive that is accessed by the class teacher. We are beginning to think about how we quality assure online learning now that’s it’s becoming increasing clear that we may have a few weeks of remote learning ahead.  The issue of introducing new concepts to pupils is something that we have been discussing this week, both as a staff and in connection with parents. As we proceed with this it’s important to ensure that we are supporting pupils and parents with the appropriate level of support and guidance. We’re continuing to work on this.
  • Creating a connection between the children and the school – Just this week we have introduced a virtual assembly to try to give pupils a sense of the school community being together even though we are apart from one another at this time. This will be an approach that we seek to develop as we progress though this period of closure.

Supporting families

  • Providing support for learning at home – After the Easter break , we’ll be directly contacting all those families who have no record of having accessed Google Classrooms over the first two weeks of the closure. In the main these are families who might require further support. In some cases there may be simple technical issues that are leading to children not accessing remote learning. We have already uncovered a few issues like this and have been able to supply families with a Chromebook for the duration of the closure. In one case, we have given a couple of Chromebooks to a family who have four children and two adults working from home – they had run out of computers! In some cases it will be a lack of confidence with parents/carers, who maybe have children who aren’t so enthusiastic to participate in the work on Google Classroom. We’ve already identified these families so we’ll be phoning them this week in order to offer them some advice, support and encouragement.

  • Opening lines of communication - We have a weekly newsletter for all parents and carers, which offers an update regarding progress and future plans as they evolve. In addition, all parents/carers have the direct email address of class teachers, stage leaders and me. This has helped reassure those who require additional help with anything. We have had a standing arrangement for some time regarding email access to teachers and, to be honest, we have very rarely experienced any issues with families misusing this opportunity, so the same protocols apply during closure. Families can email teachers directly for classroom-related queries. Everything else comes to school leaders either directly or through the school mailbox. All of the families who are sending their children to the hub school have my direct email so that they can contact me regarding practical arrangements.
  • Parent Council - I am meeting with the Parent Council on Zoom. These are monthly meetings which take place on a Tuesday evening, so it’s easy enough for me to speak to them directly in this way.

Next steps

  • Quality Assurance - We’ll proceed, as much as possible, with the usual summer term quality assurance approaches remotely. All stakeholders will contribute to the SIP by responding to an electronic form, which will be analysed by a group of staff who will convene a working party by video conference. A key focus of the work that we are doing now, and will deliver through next session’s School Improvement Plan, will be focussed on the wellbeing of our children. At the moment, and when we do return, that has to be our primary focus. Everything else will follow if we address wellbeing issues first.

  • Transitions - The biggest challenges we think we will face will be related to supporting transition for incoming P1s and outgoing P7s. We need to think carefully about how we do this as effectively as possible, particularly if closures last until August. Wider transition between us, ELCC and the high school will be prioritised, as it would be if we were in school. Children with additional support needs will be supported by social stories, transition handbooks and family phone calls. Incoming P1s will all be contacted by phone and we have good links with the high school to help support our P7 to S1 transition. It will be nowhere near the full extent of transition activity we usually have, however I’m sure families will have a much more realistic expectation given the circumstances, and children will be supported as best we can as we navigate these challenging days.