Speaking on The Leaders Council podcast, Kerry Hill, headteacher of Eyres Monsell Primary School in Leicester, discusses how her school has stood up to the operational challenges of Covid-19, the issue of digital poverty within the school community, and how the school is looking to address the conundrum of catching up on lost learning.
Eyres Monsell Primary School has been on a transformative journey under the headship of Kerry Hill [pictured]. Progress rates within the school are in the top one per cent nationally, despite being situated in a catchment area of significant deprivation. However, as has been the case with so many schools, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed a significant challenge.
Kerry recently came onto The Leaders Council podcast, sitting down with host Scott Challinor to talk about her experience of guiding the school through one-and-a-half turbulent academic years, and how Eyres Monsell is eyeing up the challenge of lost learning recovery.
Initially asked to describe the scale of the Covid-19 challenge for Eyres Monsell, Kerry recalled that it has been an emotional rollercoaster for her as a school leader, and a challenge that required the wider education profession to completely change the way it operated.
Kerry explained: “Covid-19 has had a massive impact in a variety of ways. Being based in Leicester, it feels like we have been in some form of lockdown for the best part of 15 or 16 months, since we had to carry on with more stringent measures for a period of time compared with the rest of England. As a leader, it has also been a myriad of emotions for me. Furthermore, a profession, we have had to completely change how we teach and how children learn. We have had to help three-to-four-year-olds adjust to remote education, support parents in helping them, and of course be aware of mental health and wellbeing issues arising from these new surrounding challenges. We crave connection as humans and we would normally encourage children to build connections, and when we can’t have that and we are limiting our movement and contacts, it has many implications concerning the curriculum and the social and emotional side of our lives.
“Staff have also had to adjust to changes to their professional lives, and they have had to wrestle with their own worries and anxieties and go long periods without physically being able to work together as one team in the same building. Timeliness of guidance from the government hasn’t always helped, with much coming in last minute, or during school holidays. So, it has been hard to keep the school as Covid-secure as possible at short notice, but we have fulfilled our responsibility of keeping everyone safe.”
Discussing the high levels of deprivation within the school’s catchment area, Kerry highlighted that the issue of digital poverty had been one that Eyres Monsell had to get around, while also addressing other forms of inequality within the community with regards to basic learning resources.
Kerry said: “We have 40 per cent of children across our school who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and digital poverty is an issue we’ve seen. We have sent out over 100 devices to families, and accessed several more through mobile phone companies, but it isn’t just a digital divide concerning devices we have spotted. It is also a lack of internet access for some families and also a lack of digital aptitude. So, we have had to accompany the sending out of some devices with instructional resources to help children and families access learning.
“The inequality in our community has also gone beyond digital and internet. We have had to send out simple resources like paper, pens and pencils because some families simply did not have them. So, we have had to be mindful of a lack of general resources and when we consider poverty and depravity, it even stretches to this extent.”
When asked about the wider issue of catching up on lost learning for the education sector at large, Kerry called for a longer-term strategy from the government to help tackle the issue, before revealing that Eyres Monsell have deployed a strategy targeted at pupils who have recently entered or are entering Key Stage 1 to help them make the best start to recovering their lost learning.
“Lost learning is a massive issue and as a whole sector and country we have to realise that short-term catch-up will not work. We need a long-term recovery plan because even though we talk about this being a “lost generation”, we cannot use Covid as an excuse for why our children do not progress. At Eyres Monsell we always aim above the national average and even our disadvantaged children progress year-on-year.
“However, what we are acutely aware of is the fact that children are currently sat in year 1 where early reading and writing skills are critical, and the Education Endowment Foundation is saying they could be as many as eight months behind with their learning. It is important that we approach the handling of these pupils in a different way than just looking to get into recovering on lost content straight away.
“This is because we see the situation as such: these pupils have lost out on half or all of their reception year as it should be. This year is where they will be in school playing, learning social skills, and developing positive behaviours and positive attitudes to learning. It takes time for children to develop these and so our priority will be addressing these lost social skills first and helping children develop them before we address lost learning and content. Our children need to have that positive attitude to learning, be able to engage, want to learn and be motivated before we can think about catch-up learning.”
The full interview with Kerry Hill on The Leaders Council podcast can be found below.