About the author…

Sophie is a SEND teacher at Thomas Wolsey Ormiston Academy. Thomas Wolsey is the first special school to join the OAT family.

SEND Teaching: New ways of engaging during lockdown

By Sophie Hance

  17 June, 2020

One of the main things that drew me in to being a SEND teacher was not just the pupil-centred approach, but the increased emphasis that is placed on the physical and practical sides of learning. Despite Thomas Wolsey Ormiston Academy being a close-knit small school with a supportive team of staff, teaching at a SEND school certainly poses unique challenges when it comes to adapting to the lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our first step was helping to ensure our pupils understood that changes needed to take place in a way that didn’t seem scary. At the beginning of lockdown, a pack was sent home with pupils which contained a clear and simple story about the virus, which meant it would be safer to be at home for now. However, it emphasised that it was important for everyone to keep learning with their families and explained that they would be able to return to school at some point in the future.

Personally, I found planning a bit of a challenge at first because I had to consider how pupils would continue to learn without that all-important face-to-face teaching, which is something completely new to me. Similarly, how we assess pupil progress has undergone big adjustments and we’ve had to become more flexible with our expectations, whilst still checking that pupils are absorbing the information and skills they’re being taught. It has been reassuring to know that I have colleagues to turn to in the face of something new, and we’ve all been helping to keep each other’s spirits up.

Due to the age and educational needs of a lot of our pupils, we knew that our parents would play a big role in facilitating distance learning, no matter how much support we provided remotely. It meant that we had to think carefully about what technology parents could access from home and provide learning materials that would be accessible to all our families.

The school has created a collaborative website for everyone’s work and ideas, which has been brilliant. The website has proved easy to navigate and allows parents to log in and access work at a time that suits them best. Similarly, through emails parents can share with teachers what is working well and feedback weekly, which helps us to establish the best methods for distance teaching.

Pupils have responded differently to the lockdown and the pandemic, which means that we’ve had to tailor our own responses. For example, one pupil was reluctant to do any work at home, feeling that ‘work’ should be something that is only done at school. Through communicating with the parents, I discovered which activities were popular at home that could be linked to the curriculum. As my pupil is a keen chef, I encouraged him to explore cooking dishes from Asia, as Asia was our topic for the half term. He was then able to further develop his maths skills through a shopping list for his Asian recipes!  

“As SEND teachers we are used to adapting learning to suit individual pupils, and we’re always ready to expect the unexpected and think on our feet.”

This situation has pushed many of us outside of our comfort zones and helped us to think even more outside of the box when it comes to creating learning that’s accessible to our pupils. Having said that, many of our pupils enjoy exactly the same lockdown opportunities as pupils in mainstream and many have loved keeping fit with Joe Wick’s every morning! I’m confident that my colleagues and I will take the skills we’ve learnt from this experience and become better teachers as a result. 

There’s no doubt that pupils are finding the adjustment difficult, but I’m very proud of how they’ve all coped so far. I think the novelty has definitely worn off now, but teachers are doing a great job in continuing to set interesting work and activities, and parents have been a huge help in ensuring pupils are able to access the benefits of home learning. One positive that has really come out of the time spent at home is that our pupils have been able to focus on learning and experiencing a range of different life skills, from laundry to gardening, which is invaluable for developing their independence.

As a school, we’ve made a collective effort to stay connected during this time; the online platform “Earwig” allows us all to share what we’ve been up to at home, and parents have been uploading pictures of their children’s work, which has been lovely to see. We’ve also been making sure pupils are in regular contact with their friends and teachers. Of course, it’ll never be quite the same as that face-to-face contact, and that’s what I miss the most, but it is working well in the meantime.

This September marks the three-year anniversary since I joined Thomas Wolsey, and I am proud to say it still stands out as a warm, welcoming and friendly school. We are always very supportive of one another – be it colleagues, pupils or the wider school community – and that has certainly been beneficial during this period. However, I can’t wait to get back to school to see everyone again – even if that’s from a social distance!

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About the author…

Sophie is a SEND teacher at Thomas Wolsey Ormiston Academy. Thomas Wolsey is the first special school to join the OAT family.