Camden Town Hall

Local heads have spoken of the work going in to prepare families for the Christmas period, as challenges persist on making sure that guidance is followed.

Netley Primary School head Bavaani Nanthabalan was in conversation with councillors this week on the impact that the coronavirus crisis continues to have on the world of education, with Green Cllr Sian Berry quizzing the Pearson Award-winning teacher on what guidance is being given to children on how to handle the uncertain time.

The Green Party co-leader went on to raise concerns over parents not wanting to call off Christmas for the sake of children, warning that the combination of the relaxation of regulations for the festive period with London being in Tier 3-level restrictions beforehand as “really dangerous”.

Nanthabalan responded: “Christmas is going to be difficult for everybody. We have had to give guidance to teachers, as everyone is feeling that uncertainty and pressure about whether they can go home and be with their families. The best part of this is that the children are more resilient than the adults I think, especially the young ones in a primary school.

“It’s just being very honest with them and talking to them that you’ve got to be with your families and stay safe, and they can tell you how to be safe. But having said that, I know there will be issues where there might be some mixing of bubbles, and the only thing we can do is make sure that information is shared over and over again.

“One of the difficulties we have had is because of the social distancing and having had a different pathways even coming into the school grounds, many of our parents don’t walk through the foyer to be able to communicate with them. It’s about getting them to be open talking about their concerns.

“I don’t know whether we can fully stop mixing of bubbles, but I know Public Health have worked incredibly hard and they are another source of support for all the heads in the school.”

Questions have also been raised by councillors over schools’ readiness for online learning were there to be another full shutdown in the coming months, as well as the need to put remote learning platforms in place to allow catch up learning in holidays and half term.

According to borough deputy chief executive Martin Pratt, the Town Hall has made “very rapid progress” in developing online learning infrastructure, with laptops from the Department for Education (DfE) handed out as well as council- and school-funded devices as well as those provided through resident crowdfunders.

Teachers are also being encouraged to develop the ability as part of their professional development to deliver the curriculum online where required, though Pratt warned that the digital divide remains an issue in the borough.

Nanthabalan gave an insight at the scale of the continuing challenge at Netley, with students having to also reckon with the learning divide caused by five months of lockdown as teachers bring pupils up to speed not only with what they have to learn in the current year, but on what has already been missed.

The primary head said: “In a school like Netley where there is greater social deprivation, the digital divide is even more enhanced. It is a real problem.

“The fact that our children live in crowded homes, so there might be three or four children in a home with one computer, is not good enough. We know of children who have had to work from iPads, which is one step better than working from their parents’ phone.

“The DfE programme has supported us, and we’ve been able to get for our school computers which are on hold, but as a school we’ve also made that investment by getting mobile devices for children to work from. Every school has a different way by which they are working.

“We know the children who don’t have the mobile devices, so there is always the option for hard copies going out to support those families. The difficulty is, and I don’t know how we can resolve this, is that when a child is in a fmaily where there are children in Year 10, that is when it becomes difficult, because that one mobile device is still not enough.”

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