With almost one in five schools sending pupils home, teachers are having to find alternative ways to deliver lessons.
The BBC reported last week that 21% of secondary schools are not fully open. This is up from 18% from the previous week while 7% of primary schools have had to send pupils home.
In reaction, Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, has remarked schools are having to try to balance "managing complex control measures while delivering education for those in school as well as those who are at home self-isolating."
In addition, with the autumn term being the worst for coughs, colds and temperatures, schools are not only missing entire year groups potentially affected by coronavirus cases but also students and teachers who are staying at home to wait for the results of COVID-19 tests.
This presents two main issues: Teaching and contact
Teaching during self-isolation
Video calls have come into their own during isolation. Lessons can be delivered live with the teacher as the presenter broadcasting to students using their devices in their homes. Teachers can share their screens, files and links via a chat facility. They can create breakout sessions for smaller groups, set quizzes and mark homework all from one platform rather than having to use multiple apps. These online classrooms can be created for up to 49 pupils with the teacher in charge of the mute controls!
This can all be delivered via Microsoft Teams, which is free to school staff and students. You can find out more about these teaching and learning functions in our latest information video here.
Contact during self-isolation
Firstly, we need to consider contact between parents and the school, especially if they need to report a child’s absence while they wait for a test result. Receptionists could easily become overloaded with calls every morning unless they have a reporting facility within their phone system. This collates messages in a single voicemail box to be listened to at a more convenient time or they can be emailed as a sound file or even converted to text.
Secondly, schools need to find ways of keeping in contact with isolating year groups and students. Safeguarding rules require teachers and tutors to contact students regularly and for calls to be monitored. Understandably, teachers do not want to use their personal mobiles to call students and parents, but neither do they want their calls ignored because the number is withheld.
Call recording will alleviate the monitoring issue while a modern phone system can present the schools’ main number from whichever extension staff members are calling from. Mobiles can be twinned with desk handsets too to accommodate remote working and these will also present the school’s main number
Lastly, what about contact with parents or, more specifically, parents’ evenings? Even where schools do not have any year groups in isolation, parents’ evenings are being offered via video to maintain student/teacher school bubbles.
Again, these features can be delivered via Microsoft Teams with a licence upgrade to include the telephony app along with call routing via internet connections. Other types of phone systems can also offer the required contact functionality, especially when they are used with complementary unified communications apps, such as Rainbow for Alcatel-Lucent systems or Collaborate for Gamma Horizon solutions.
The ideal for some schools will be to use a ‘single pane of glass’ to overcome all teaching and contact hurdles during these challenging times. This is where Microsoft Teams is ideal, especially as schools can make use of the free licences they are already using or have on offer to them.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance if your school needs advice on any of the communications technology I have described above.