A view from Glasgow, Scotland: Maureen McKenna on school closures and the Pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education, Glasgow City Council. This is the fourth in a series that includes posts from Chile,  from Japan, and from the Netherlands.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education

IEN: What’s happening with your family and friends?

Maureen McKenna: Since the UK and Scottish Governments announced lockdown, I have been working between home and the office. My youngest son has moved back home with us from Belfast and he has set up his IT equipment in the back room. He has managed to complete his probationary period with the company during this lockdown. My oldest son has been placed on furlough (a government scheme where you get 80% of salary) with a major sports company – it is hard financially for him but he is grateful to still be employed. My daughter is expecting her second child in early July and is desperate to get back to work in her nursery school but that is looking increasingly unlikely as the lockdown continues. She is helping her six year old son with his school work, completing the transition records for the four year old children in her key group to support them when they go to primary school in August and doing lots of on-line professional learning. We live outside the city so we are managing long walks most days. However, like most people, as this lockdown continues it is becoming more challenging to maintain work patterns.

https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/18418825.puzzles-glasgows-stem-experts-might-leave-stumped/

IEN: What is happening with education/learning in your community?

MM: In Glasgow, in normal times we have around 68,500 children in our primary and secondary schools. A further 12,000 are in our nurseries. Almost all closed on 23rd March 2020. We have kept some nurseries and schools open for the children of key workers. We have only around 500 children coming in to the schools and about 400 in nurseries. This has been increasing recently and in the last week we have around 650 primary-aged children in schools. Glasgow has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the UK. Many of our families’ lives are impacted by poverty, alcohol and drugs. When we consider how to support our families we think of them as thriving, coping, just coping and chaotic. In normal times, most families are thriving and coping – some are just coping and a number are chaotic mainly due to addiction. In our ‘new normal’ fewer families are thriving and coping and notably more are just coping. 

Wellbeing, compassion and care had to be our focus – if we got that right then learning would follow.

Our priority for Glasgow schools and nurseries was to ensure we remained connected – in a world where news bulletins were incessant in their spread of fear, raising the anxiety of all. Therefore, wellbeing, compassion and care had to be our focus – if we got that right then learning would follow. Heads of nurseries and schools were asked to create contact trees where each member of staff would have a named contact and put in place arrangements for staff to contact families regularly, particularly vulnerable families. This has worked well. Relationships have remained strong in the main which will be essential for the next phase. Phone calls, social media, Apps, STEM e-bulletins, and YouTube channels have all been used. Teachers have sent home lesson packs as well as “sensory boxes” for students with visual and hearing impairments. A partnership with the local city newspaper produces twice weekly two-page spreads with activities in math, in STEM, and other subjects to help families support learning at home, and some inserts into national news have all worked well – all with the consistent message of ‘we care’.

https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/18418825.puzzles-glasgows-stem-experts-might-leave-stumped/

Before 23rd March we were part-way through the roll-out of 50,000 iPads to staff and pupils. We had a carefully planned programme of support for staff and pupils that launched in August 2019. Our ambitious plan had all secondary-aged pupils getting their own iPad, along with upper stage primary pupils. Other stages would have access to class sets of iPads. At the time, there were some in the educational world who criticised us for being so ambitious and told us via social media that digital learning was not all it was cracked up to be – now, there are some in the education world highlighting how awful it is that some children don’t have access to digital learning and what are we doing about it. Given our new situation, we have plans to accelerate the issuing of iPads to secondary staff and we are exploring how quickly we can accelerate the issuing of iPads to senior pupils in secondary schools, recognising that the whole of academic session 2020/21 is likely to be our new normal. So our staff are providing pupils’ work using on-line links; where this is not possible, packs of work are prepared for parents to collect or they are delivered to homes. Other staff are volunteering with our third sector partners to deliver much needed food parcels to families all across the city.

Now we are starting to think about recovery – the longer our children are out of school the wider the attainment gap is becoming between those from the least disadvantaged and the most disadvantaged communities. In the last ten years, we had made tremendous progress closing the attainment gap – I worry a lot about our children and young people who were so dependent on the structure and support of school.

IEN: What are you working on now?

MM: We need to continue to focus on the wellbeing of our school communities. In our recovery plans, we are planning on how we use the nurturing principles which are so embedded in our everyday work to help us build the confidence of staff, parents and pupils to re-establish learning. We are structuring our plans around Recovery, Resilience and Re-connection. Our psychological service has developed really good advice for schools and nurseries to support their planning. Wellbeing, compassion and care must continue to be central to our plans – recent events have been traumatic for even the most resilient of people – so it is critical that we take time to build resilience and think carefully about how we re-connect with each other, with children and young people and with families.

Recent events have been traumatic for even the most resilient of people – so it is critical that we take time to build resilience and think carefully about how we re-connect with each other, with children and young people and with families

This past week, we engaged with groups of headteachers from across the city to discuss what physical distancing will mean in their buildings, what steps will they need to take to re-connect and what will academic session 2020/21 look like in our ‘new normal’. We are gathering the findings from these discussions and we will share them more widely so that ideas are shared, promoting more discussion encouraging heads to start to include their staff. We have a strong culture of relational trust and collaboration across our schools and nurseries – this will help us build for the future. I am also linking with Directors of other local authorities in Scotland, sharing ideas while we try to find innovative and creative ways to continue to deliver high quality learning and teaching to our children and young people.

IEN: What are you most proud of?

MM: I am always proud of the achievements of the children and young people and the commitment of our staff. It is no different through this challenging time. We have staff who are continuing to come to work in the hubs we have set up to provide childcare. They are integrating learning with fun activities for the children. The numbers are increasing as support is offered to more of our just coping families. We also have staff who have worked with health colleagues to design face shields which can be made from 3D printers and other staff who are making scrubs out of bed linen, including my mum (she’s not a member of staff – she has just volunteered to keep herself busy!). They are working in our schools doing this great work. Three of our secondary schools are being used as food distribution centres through a partnership with third sector organisations. School staff are working with them to link with families in the greatest need. I have just ordered £25,000 worth of sanitary products which will be included in packs to families.

We will all have to dig deep in the coming months drawing on our own resilience but I know that we will come back just as strong, hopefully with a better sense of community. I know our staff will rise to the challenge – it will not be easy but education is too important. We know that education is key to reducing the impact of poverty on people’s lives so we have no choice – our children and young people continue to deserve the very best we can give.

8 responses to “A view from Glasgow, Scotland: Maureen McKenna on school closures and the Pandemic

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