Lancashire headteacher predicts pupils will catch up after lockdown - and welcomes getting back to school

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The headteacher of a Lancashire secondary school has welcomed what he describes as the government's decision to “prioritise education” in its lockdown-lifting roadmap for England.

Boris Johnson briefed the Commons on Monday about his plan for schools to reopen to all pupils from 8th March. They have been open only to vulnerable children and the children of key workers on all but one day so far this year.

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Lancashire teacher blasts "gamble" of fully reopening schools from 8th March

Peter Mayland, who leads Albany Academy in Chorley, says that while a phased return would have helped with the practicalities of mass testing pupils for Covid, the pay-off for a wholesale reopening was “getting all children in for the three weeks before we break up for Easter”.

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Peter Mayland, headteacher of Albany Academy in Chorley, is looking forward to welcoming back all pupils from 8th MarchPeter Mayland, headteacher of Albany Academy in Chorley, is looking forward to welcoming back all pupils from 8th March
Peter Mayland, headteacher of Albany Academy in Chorley, is looking forward to welcoming back all pupils from 8th March

“That is worth the headaches that we’re going to face [with testing],” he said.

“We have done a survey of all students and staff about the way we have done things [during the lockdown] and there has been lots of positive feedback.

“We have kept things as consistent as possible for the children who are at home and those in school - they are all following the same subjects and all learning the same content.

“But there were some concerns, of course, about what children aren't getting [when learning from home] - which is why we're really pleased to see that they will be back on 8th March.”

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The school will be continuing the Covid precautions that it has had in place since it first fully reopened in the autumn term - with pupils split into separate ‘bubbles’ to reduce the risk of infection spreading if cases do occur. Social distancing will also be practised between staff and students.

The situation will be slightly different at Chorley New Road Primary Academy - which is also operated by the umbrella Albany Learning Trust, a Lancashire-based charity which provides education to over 1,000 pupils - where social distancing between teachers and children will not be required because of the practical difficulties of doing so with pupils of a younger age.

Mr. Mayland believes that it is primary school children who will see the greatest benefit of the return to class next month, as they are more likely to have found online learning “harder to access”.

Across the trust, however, he says that their mixture of live online lessons and pre-set work, with teachers on-hand for feedback, has been engaged with “positively” by pupils - and he is optimistic about the ability of youngsters to bridge any gaps in their learning after nearly a year of disruption to their education.

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“We wanted to maintain the integrity of the curriculum as much as possible - but in certain subjects, there have had to be compromises, so that has had an effect on the amount that children have learned.

“In science, it’s been the practical work - children at home are having to resort to watching videos of other people doing it, rather than experiencing it themselves. And PE has not been delivered in the way that it normally would since last March, so the specific sports skills that would have been taught have just been off the curriculum.

“But in subjects like maths and English, the loss has been less.

“There will be some catch-up [needed], but that’s the normality when teaching children face-to-face - you always have some who are absent and some who struggle with topics and you have to go over them again.

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“So this isn't new for teachers or a particular challenge,” Mr. Mayland added.

Last month, the government announced another £300m in funding for catch-up tutoring, in addition to a £1bn commitment made last summer.

Commenting on the full reopening of schools in a fortnight, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for children, young people and schools, Phillippa Williamson, said: "Staff in our schools have done a tremendous job supporting vulnerable children and children of key workers at school and by delivering remote learning throughout this lockdown.

"They will continue to support learning until all our pupils and young people are safely back in school.

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"Our schools have put measures in place to support children safely and help prevent the spread of the virus.

"We know this has been a difficult time, but it is vital for schools to follow government guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in our community," County Cllr Williamson added.

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