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How we used communication to best effect during the Coronavirus crisis

Richard Sproson, Headteacher at King Richard School, Cyprus, offers a global perspective on how his school community adapted to the challenges they faced during the pandemic, embracing online learning while maintaining regular contact with their students and school community.

As a secondary Ministry of Defence School in Cyprus, we are unique in many ways; however, it is fair to say that COVID-19 has affected schools globally. While the challenges that schools have faced have been many and varied, there will always be some similarities of approach that can be useful both during the current crisis and for the future. As an SLT, we identified that clear and effective communication would be pivotal in our strategy to continue delivering excellent teaching and learning to our students. This was exacerbated by the remote nature of stakeholder contact and the rapidly changing situation we faced as a school community.

King Richard School’s move to remote learning was a little earlier than for schools in the UK mainland as we had to consider the political situation in the host nation. This decision was made 24 hours prior to the school site being closed, which meant communication to parents was driven locally and the school had an important message to get out swiftly, while also giving due consideration to staff.

We met as a staff team the following day to plan, with the aim of maintaining as much normality as possible. We decided to run the usual school timetable remotely across all key stages and register students remotely for each lesson. We encouraged staff to consider how they would approach remote learning and work with colleagues who already had experience with these online platforms. We believed it important to keep the online nature of learning as simple as possible and that this would be more likely if staff used software and platforms they were already familiar with, for example Google Classroom and SENECA. On reflection, Google Classroom proved a particularly successful tool as the features available grew as the teachers and students became more familiar with its use. We spoke to all of our students during the final day and sent them home with a timetable, instructions on the school day and an explanation of how they would be learning. This was also sent to parents/carers.

We identified that keeping parents and carers updated was key to our communication strategy and we managed this by telephone where possible. This dialogue encouraged parents and students to take ownership of the process and gave us opportunity to resolve any issues with technology and resources that could have hampered the process. Staff delivered technology and resources to students’ homes where required. These phone calls were particularly important to keep our Y11 and Y13 students up to date on the impact on examinations.

Online stakeholder surveys gave us opportunity to understand the collective issues and adapt our processes after two weeks. Students, staff and parents all accessed these and provided important information regarding the merits of our strategy and how it could be further improved.

We were keen to maintain a degree of normalcy as much as possible during this time so we conducted middle leader meetings, line management sessions and governor updates via social media platforms. We recorded assemblies which were sent to all students and parents; non-COVID related charity campaigns have been continued using the school’s social media pages, and school sing-a-longs were promoted using the LA and radio. The weekly bulletin has become a staff repository of top tips of how to cope with working from home and lockdown.

SLT have ensured that all staff are called weekly for a non-work-related chat, and we call students on their birthdays. The SEN team have also called SEND and vulnerable students regularly to ensure they are getting all the support they require. Nominations from teachers allow SLT to send messages of praise for students producing excellent work.

The impact of this work has meant that we have dealt with the current situation positively. We had 95% student attendance during the period of remote learning and I feel we learned a number of things that have made us even stronger as a school. An example of this is our use of social media. We held Facebook Live sessions for parents and the local community to regularly update them, and for discussion around our specific context when discussing plans for a phased return. This allowed questions to be asked in real time and offered a very obvious transparency about the work we were doing to enable our students to return to school. It addressed a number of issues around anxieties and context. We have now moved into a phased reopening of our school to students. Y10 and 12 have successfully returned to the ‘new normal’ and today we have welcomed back Y9 and have a roadmap and a real aspiration for all our students to have returned by the end of term. One of the King Richard’s priorities this year is Community. The community spirit shown by all areas of the school, local community and beyond in getting us ready to welcome back students promptly, with a strong academic focus and most importantly safely, has been a rare positive to come from the pandemic. The transparency and openness of a positive, proactive communication drive has been a significant reason for this success.

It is fair to say that many of these aspects will be useful as we enter the recovery period and develop our own ‘new normal’.

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