No child left behind…the extra challenge of tackling poverty during the pandemic

No child left behind…the extra challenge of tackling poverty during the pandemic

 

No child left behind…the extra challenge of tackling poverty during the pandemic

 

In Hester’s Way, Cheltenham, child poverty is a significant problem, with almost 40% of children in the district eligible for free school meals, compared with just 1% elsewhere in the town. This is something that Cheltenham Borough Council has been tackling with their ‘No Child Left Behind’ campaign, and is also a priority of the district’s All Saints Academy, who’ve found themselves with the added challenge of tackling poverty remotely during the pandemic. We caught up with Catherine Cain, Senior Leader for the Sixth Form and Head of Careers Development at All Saints Academy to get her take.

What was the initial lockdown like for the school and how have you adapted since?

“Going into lockdown for the first time left us worried for the students. There was a lot of immediate change and adaptation, such as the timings of a virtual day, lessons on MS Teams, Covid safety protocols and the like. All of this is on top of changes around exams too. Students like routine and habit, and it was our job to make sure that all the changes were smooth and that students were given all the information that they needed.”

“The last twelve months have been incredibly busy, and different working routines have meant added pressure in delivering lessons. Our students have also needed more support for mental health related issues that Covid has brought to the surface, and communication with parents has been forced online or over the telephone – this isn’t always the best way to support issues of mental health.”

“That said, there’s been lots of positives too. We have found that both the students and the staff are so much more adaptable and resilient than I ever thought possible! We have coped admirably with all the necessary changes and kept ourselves safe.”

What about community and student support?

“For our students in particular, it was essential to ensure that they did not fall behind their peers in other Districts as a result of their home circumstances, even more so after so many households had a fall in their incomes. We provided free laptop access before the Government grants became available, ensuring every one of our pupils had the ability to stay connected. We instituted weekly wellbeing phone calls to students and their families, as well as offering key worker and vulnerable students’ education within the school environment. Tackling some of the challenge of poverty in the district, we also ensured access to Free School Meals for students and sent out food vouchers too. Ultimately, every student was supported which is what we planned for.”

What about now? What’s the plan for post-pandemic?

“Initially, we are focussing on not loosening the reins and going back to ‘normal’ too quickly. It would be really easy to put our whole academy back to its original settings, but if we needed to put in place Covid safety measures again, it would be very difficult to bring that back in with the same rigour that it has now.”

“That said, we have a lot of positive plans in place, including working closely with Cheltenham Borough Council and the Golden Valley Development to support the future of our students. It will also be really good for our students to experience the milestone markers of exams again. I know that many students think that not having exams is a good thing, however, the danger of not sitting an ‘end-point’ to your study is that you never feel that you have finished it and reached the goal at the end. That has impacted on the maturity of a few students in Sixth form.”

“We’re also delighted to be part of the Cheltenham #HappyPlaceCheltenham campaign, supporting students and their families to think about the future, what makes them happy in the town, and how to make the most of their time, safely. My personal #HappyPlaceCheltenham is walking along the Honeybourne line towards Pittville Park. I love to hear the birds and look down at all the ‘goings on’ on the roads below. It’s a great vantage point.”

 

No child left behind…the extra challenge of tackling poverty during the pandemic

 

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