Jo Walsh, Head of English at Mary Hare Secondary School, talked to Chris Boulton on Radio Kennet about how the school has been continuing the education of its pupils during lockdown.
Radio Kennet hosts a 'Fantastic Friday Feeling' breakfast show every Friday morning and each week chats with a local charity. Mary Hare were delighted to be asked to feature in this slot on Friday 19th June.
For those who were unable to tune in live, below is a transcript of the interiew.
19th June 2020
Interviewer (Chris Boulton): Many of us know that MHS is a school for children with Hearing Impairment but can you tell us what you do?
Jo Walsh: Mary Hare School has been established for a long time as a school for deaf pupils. We have the Primary & Secondary Schools on two sites in Newbury. We cater for a wide age range. Most of our students board as they come from every corner of the country and some from abroad. So, when the virus hit us the impact was huge. We had to get the children home to various places and now we are thinking about them coming back from places with different levels of the infection.
Chris Boulton: So very challenging. So in lockdown you effectively closed?
Jo Walsh: Yes – we arranged in very quick time to get our children home all over the UK.
Chris Boulton: But now some are returning back to school?
Jo Walsh: Yes our Primary School children in KS1 are in school and year 6 are also back. They have been back for a couple of weeks. They have settled in nicely and we are trying to invite the other year groups in the Primary School before the summer break - to reconnect with and reassure pupils. In the secondary we have had children of keyworkers in school from day 1. They access their online learning, but in the school, and so they are getting the same education as the children who are learning from home.
Chris Boulton: You have done a great job – but must be quite a challenge? I have been to visit your school and seen the small classes and the technology in the classroom which must be a challenge online?
Jo Walsh: We can only accommodate day pupils at the Secondary at the moment – and these are low numbers. So social distancing is quite straight forward. They want to get close and have a chat like all young people, so we monitor them to ensure social distancing. It will be a huge consideration when we have larger numbers back in the autumn. Online teaching has been very successful. We are teaching 5 lessons a day (a full timetable), online through a mix of video calls and text on the Teams platform to deliver the lessons. There were some teething issues to get used to. Planning lessons is very different. Everyone has settled into it, teachers and pupils. They know what to do to submit the work. Teachers are used to it – we are much more IT literate than we have ever been! After a little while we realised that 5 double lessons a day was a lot of screen time so for younger pupils we went to mornings only and the children go and do something physical or creative away from the screen in the afternoon. But for the rest of the pupils they have followed a normal day’s lessons in real time. Pupils and teachers are looking forward to a rest!
Chris Boulton: I must admit I would like to do something creative in the afternoons. I spend a lot of time in front of the screen in Zoom meetings etc. Is there any of this you will keep up in the future?
Jo Walsh: There are things to take from it. When the children are in school again they won’t need distance learning but for example setting homework and independent work on the Teams platform can be very useful and we can use that. Also, the more creative ways of using video – it has opened our eyes to what is available and what we can do. The Speech and Language therapists and Audiology teams have successfully continued with their support through this time online – via Teams – fantastic. Audiology is just as important – the children are listening to us through a computer and it needs to be very clear. The audiologists ensure the children’s equipment is working and Speech and Language Therapists make sure they do that via the screen. Our staff have been incredible. Teachers, TAs Speech therapists, audiologists have kept going by working hard to make it work. We are very proud and grateful to everyone including care staff who have come in to help support our day pupils.
Chris Boulton: Yes – a big shout out to all your team – its sounds very good. Aided and abetted by embracing technology - everyone has done that over the past weeks. We all had something to learn for the future.
Jo Walsh: Yes we all intended doing it before it but now we have been plunged in at the deep end.
Chris Boulton: You have a big project going forward – over at the Primary School – that’s still going ahead and fundraising is still going ahead?
Jo Walsh: Yes we hope that everything is still on track. We are looking forward to having the Mary Hare family on one site – the drawings look really incredible - a new Primary School for the 21st century.
Chris Boulton: Yes the building at Greenham is beautiful but not fit for purpose – lovely but not right for a Primary School that needs modern facilities etc.
Jo Walsh: We will miss this beautiful building and the grounds but it will be a big step forward for us
Chris Boulton: But the campus is also very nice at Snelsmore – stunning
Jo Walsh: yes, lovely grounds. We normally don’t have time to discover them – but we have got to know them more with the children of key workers at school.
Chris Boulton: How can listeners help? I presume you still need donations.
Jo Walsh: The best thing to do is to look at our website – everything is there about how to support us. www.maryhare.org.uk
Chris Boulton: Yes I will post it on social media after our chat. Have you got a busy day ahead?
Jo Walsh: Yes online teaching and keeping the day pupils here active and engaged in their lessons, another busy day.
Chris Boulton: Lets hope the weather improves! Thank you for calling in great to chat to you about MHS. Bye.
Jo Walsh: Bye