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‘Terrific teaching students’. Their impact on schoolchildren’s lockdown learning

Date 11.02.2021

Education is expected to be front and centre of the Government’s ‘route out of’ COVID plans, but University of Northampton teacher training students are already making a huge impact on children’s learning.

65 Initial Teacher Training (ITT) students from the University’s undergraduate programme can be found in a variety of school-based training placements at 55 schools across the region. 42 of their postgraduate course peers have placements in a total of 35 schools.

With the pandemic threatening to disrupt their final year, partnership schools have worked closely with the University to keep students on track to finish their courses and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) so they can join the teaching workforce in September.

Their placements are a mixture of working in schools on a face-to-face basis with vulnerable children and/or the children of keyworkers; some are remote teaching and also in schools; some are teaching entirely online; some are at home preparing packs for home learning.

The pandemic has meant students have had to think on their feet, putting their own classroom learning from University lectures into practice to help deliver a quality teaching experience for schoolchildren.

This has included showing how flexible and adaptable they are and seeing challenges to be worked through rather than barriers in their way.

Here, we catch up with two of our terrific teacher training students – and the headteachers of their respective schools – to find out how they’ve risen to the challenges COVID has presented them.

James Eardley is a third-year undergraduate Primary Education student on his final school-based training placement at Millfield LEAD Academy. He said: “I have been going into school every day, for a year one class with the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

“My duties vary from observing teaching, attending staff meetings and completing directed tasks to assessing children’s progress, maintaining classroom safety (hand sanitation!), planning, teaching, being observed teaching, evaluating lessons, assessing children’s progression and maintaining and collating evidence of Teachers’ Standards – all this whilst fluctuating between mask on, mask off!

“A week into the placement I had to go into isolation as a positive coronavirus case was reported in my class. This meant preparing teaching material for my return the following week. All the work I set has to engage pupils who are at home as well as those in the classroom. This is a challenge that all teachers have adapted to amazingly well though everyone will be glad to get back to traditional face-to-face teaching.

“The pandemic has really highlighted how much we need each other. All children should have access to a great education, pandemic or not.  There may be frustration and tiredness but there is also hope and teamwork. Everyone is in it together for the sake of the children.”

“I am positive about my future career in primary education safe in the knowledge that all the training will pay off. In a few months when we have all graduated and found teaching jobs, we’ll hopefully look back at this as both a distant, ‘remember when’ moment and as a time when we developed in maturity and competence. If we managed during the pandemic, then surely most other challenges of schooling or other career paths should not faze us at all.”

Pete Wood, Headteacher of Millfield LEAD Academy, added: “The University’s ITT students, such as James, have played a vital role in helping our children readjust back to normal school life since the initial lockdown period.

“They have been developing their skills while helping the children to ‘catch up’ with any missed learning.  An extra pair of hands has enabled the teacher to create individual and small group activities to aid this.  The students have been keen to get stuck in and help with these groups and whole class teaching.”

Sam Unitt, is also a third year Primary Education student whose placement has been at Eastfield Academy. She said: “I am working in the school in year one and currently I have eight children in school, with children at home encouraged to join us for the three live sessions offered each day. I have been teaching the live English sessions since the 25 January and last week started to teach the live mathematics sessions.

“The experience so far has been challenging, rewarding and inspiring. By challenging, I mean with regards to meeting the needs of all children and ensuring inclusive learning – both at home and in school. This has required adaptations of familiar teaching practices and learning new ways to make the learning accessible. Due to these challenges, it is even more rewarding to see (or hear in this case) children excited and engaged in their lessons and being able to make progress. This is itself is inspiring. Not to mention the resilience shown by all members of the school community and COVID safety procedures being maintained to ensure a safe environment in school.

“Like I imagine many student teachers are, I am both nervous and excited about having a class of my own and teaching full-time. Having the opportunity to teach and be part of a school community during this time, has encouraged me to face new and unexpected challenges positively. Fortunately, during this placement, I am still gaining valuable time in a school setting as well as learning online teaching skills.”

Clair Mills, Headteacher at Eastfield Academy, added: “The children at school and at home have built a very positive relationship with Sam already. Sam’s ‘meet and greet’ video really helped pupils get to know her and one of our parents has commented on what a fantastic job Sam has done with our live lessons and wishes her daughter could have been at school during the placement.

“The partnership we have with UON works very well and is very much a two-way process. Mentors receive training and support, so they are clear on what is expected of the placement. Communication and online resources are very comprehensive and ensure the student has a successful placement. Students arrive well-prepared from the University and that eases the process for all involved. As much as they learn from us in school, we are in the privileged position of learning from our students and supporting them to become fabulous teachers.”