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Developing a whole-school approach to deliver pastoral and transition support virtually during lockdown

Developing a whole-school approach to deliver pastoral and transition support virtually during lockdown
In his think piece submission for the SSAT Leadership Legacy Project, Steven Robinson, Head of Physical Education & Head of KS3 at Hope Academy, explains how a project originally designed to celebrate student success has been adapted into a virtual pastoral programme which also supports transition between years 6 and 7.

Initial think piece project pre-lockdown

Upon beginning the SSAT Leadership Legacy project in November 2019, I was working within the middle leadership system as Head of Year 7 and Transition lead. As a result, I had led a range of leadership projects specifically for Year 7students and their transition to secondary school. However, upon beginning the Leadership Legacy Project, I wanted my think piece to have whole-school impact.

I was keen to further develop the rewards system of the academy and celebrate the students that consistently do the right thing, day in, day out, but may sometimes get overlooked. As a result, I developed a strategy called the ‘Perfect 30’. This strategy was rolled out whole school and was received well by staff, students and parents across the Hope community. The programme was a competition to see which students could complete 30 consecutive days of meeting the following criteria:

  • 100% attendance
  • 0 late marks
  • 0 behaviour points
  • Over 106 achievement points (equal to 1 per lesson)
  • Complete 1 Pixl Edge activity
  • Bring in a Harvest/Christmas food hamper item within the first 2 weeks to your Inspire tutor

All students in the academy were entered into the competition which ran from Monday 4 November until Friday 13 December. The data was analysed by the academy admin manager with weekly reports sent through to me and the other heads of year. Each week, the number of students still in the Perfect 30 would reduce with the figures released during weekly Year Group Collective Worship (assembly). Following the 30-day period, each year group had a number of students who had completed the challenge, and these received a special celebration assembly and received certificates. The overall student data is below.

Number of students achieving the Perfect 30 per year group:

  • Year 7: 66 (23% of year group)
  • Year 8: 48 (18% of year group)
  • Year 9: 39 (16% of year group)
  • Year 10: 22 (12% of year group)
  • Year 11: 32 (18% of year group)

Students finishing in the ‘Perfect 30’ were exceptionally proud of their achievement and this was widely celebrated. Following the huge success of the programme we planned to run a similar challenge during March-April 2020. This was called ‘Perfect 30 The Race to Easter’ and used a similar system but now had a medal grading system to allow more students to complete the challenge. Unfortunately, this challenge was disrupted due to the school lockdown and COVID-19. The academy will be looking to deliver a similar challenge from September 2021.

COVID-19 and the impact on my think piece

In April 2020, the academy was forced into a partial closure, with only vulnerable students and children of key workers remaining in school. This meant we moved to online learning and with this, creating a range of challenges for our students and parents. As a result, I wanted to progress my think piece to incorporate a new strategy during lockdown to support our students in another whole-school approach. Students at Hope Academy were completing all their work using a range of online systems, with teachers delivering their curriculum through pre-recorded videos, voice-over PowerPoints and online resources. This had good success with the majority of students working well at home through their online timetable.

However, what students didn’t have was the daily pastoral support they would normally receive from our outstanding Inspire programme which runs each day at school between 08.40-09.10am. Throughout the Inspire programme and daily collective worship, students work with their Inspire tutor and the rest of their class to complete active, engaging and discussion-based activities on our core values (Respect, Courage and Ambition). This programme creates a real family feel to each Inspire group, with students flourishing in this daily environment. At the beginning of the partial school closure in April, I developed the Virtual Inspire programme as a whole school approach.

Virtual Inspire programme

I developed the programme to deliver the outstanding pastoral support that students would normally receive in school but virtually throughout the partial school closure. This was a weekly programme, using Microsoft Teams where students logged on every Wednesday and their Inspire tutor delivered their normal programme virtually.

In order to set this up, I delivered multiple CPD training sessions to staff on using Microsoft Teams and online lesson safety to ensure all staff members were comfortable to present from home. I coordinated the programme for staff, with over 40 teachers involved and delivering the sessions weekly. In the planning stages of the programme, I was in daily contact with St Helens ICT support to set up Microsoft Teams for mass student use in a safe and controlled manner. I then ran a pilot session with two students, followed by a further pilot session with three year 7 inspire groups. Following the feedback from the sessions we delivered the first whole school Virtual Inspire programme session on Wednesday 29 April. These sessions ran weekly until Wednesday 15 July.

Each week, I planned the Inspire sessions based on current events with themes such as ‘NHS and Key Workers’, with creative and active tasks that engaged all students throughout years 7-10. The programme allowed students to see the familiar face of their Inspire tutor and the rest of their Inspire group. This had huge impact, with students at the time unable to leave the house to meet their friends or take part in any social events. The average number taking part in the Virtual Inspire programme each week was 550 students. This was across years 7-10, with year 11 having bespoke sessions led by a head of department.

Virtual transition programme

Following the widespread success of the Virtual Inspire programme, myself and a wider team turned to the development of the Virtual Transition programme for the Year 6 students joining us in Year 7. At this time, I was now completing the role of Head of KS3 and Transition Lead with another colleague now in the role of Head of Year 7. Across the local area, schools were anxious to complete a transition programme virtually, worried about its effectiveness and the experience students would receive. Some schools were also attempting to bring students into their facility in a COVID secure environment in order to avoid delivering a virtual programme.

At Hope Academy, we had already delivered a successful virtual programme so we were firm in the knowledge we could deliver our normal transition programme virtually to our new students and parents. In order for our new students to receive the full experience and feel welcomed into our community we created the Hope Academy Virtual Transition week.

The virtual transition week ran from Monday 15 June to Friday 19 June, with Year 6 students completing a full timetable of inspire and departmental activities (see below). These were accessed via the school website and completed at home or in primary school. Each department produced a staff introduction video, learning journey, praise post cards, transition activities and an audio voiceover to talk through the activity. This was a hugely successful programme and one I, along with the wider transition team, were extremely proud of.

Following the virtual transition week, myself, the head of school and head of year 7 delivered virtual parent meetings using Microsoft Teams to each primary school. Meetings were held each night for individual schools to create a personal experience and parents were given key information on standards, expectations, uniform and policies in addition to a Q&A session.

The final stage of the Virtual Transition programme was a Microsoft Teams meeting with the year 6 students and their new Inspire tutor and the rest of their Inspire group. This is normally the highlight of the transition days with students meeting new friends and receiving the full Hope Academy experience. It proved a fantastic opportunity for students and staff to meet their new Inspire group virtually.

Bounce back curriculum

Following the partial closure of the academy, students were working from home and receiving consistent pastoral and curriculum support. However, we were aware that when students returned to school, the lengthy absence from normal routine would create a range of challenges. As a result, from June 2020, myself and a small team developed a recovery curriculum to support our students in the re-integration to academy life. This programme was labelled as the ‘Bounce back curriculum’.

Following research completed by Barry Carpenter on recovery curriculums, we developed ‘Bounce back’ to support the mental health and wellbeing of our students. We focused the curriculum around five levers: Routine, Community, Space, Relationships and Transparency. We believed these were five factors that our students would now be missing from daily life. Then, following our normal faith-led approach, we ensured every session was personal, therapeutic, discussion-based and collaborative. Students completed the Bounce back curriculum (see below) as part of their weekly Virtual Inspire programme on Microsoft Teams. In addition, year 10 students were delivered the programme physically in school as this year group returned early during the final months of the term. The Bounce back curriculum and the focus on mental health and wellbeing was hugely impactful for our students and is still currently completed once a week to all students throughout the Inspire programme.

Research list

Throughout the SSAT Leadership Legacy Project, I have found myself reflecting on my practice more than ever and turning to research to improve my leadership qualities. This has had a huge impact on my practice within the current, ever-changing, school environment. Furthermore, with the theme of the project (Deep Social Justice) fitting perfectly with my school environment, I have been in constant reflection when applying a new strategy or delivering CPD. This has meant, following the project and throughout the rest of my career, I will be forever committed to achieving and championing deep social justice.

Since graduating from the SSAT Leadership Legacy Project, Steven has been successful in his application for his first SLT role and is now Associate Assistant Principal at Hope Academy.

Learn more about the programme which is designed to develop the next generation of leaders and is available exclusively to SSAT members.

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