10:30AM, Friday 29 January 2021
Head of computing at Desborough College, Matt Lovegrove
“I have never been prouder to be a teacher. It has been incredible to see how well people have pulled together.”
Matt Lovegrove sits at home with his dog, a far cry from the ICT suite at Desborough College where he would normally be working.
As head of computing at the Shoppenhangers Road school, Matt would typically be teaching up to 150 students, but as is the case across the country, classrooms have moved to the home for most pupils.
Schools remain shut as another wave of COVID-19, and contagious new variants, threaten to spread.
After opening for spells in between lockdowns, and with primary schools returning for just one day at the start of the new year term, it is fair to say the education system has been fairly disrupted over the last 10 months.
This has adversely had an impact on young people’s education and forced schools to dive straight into the unknown as they strive to teach students amid a global pandemic.
“We are trying to get them up and moving,” Matt said, adding that all of Desborough’s year 7 boys have each been given skipping ropes to help with this.
“We are running days where we encourage students not to use their devices and do something more practical, maybe go outside.”
The debate over students having access to working laptops has made national headlines throughout the pandemic.
Matt praised Desborough’s efforts in ensuring this has not been too much of a problem at the Maidenhead school.
He explained how staff check in with students who are not attending lessons and find out why this is. If required, laptops will be picked up by staff and fixed, before being returned to the student.
While the aim is to ensure every pupil eventually has their own working device, Desborough has benefitted from 50 new laptops as part of a Government scheme, which it provided to students who really needed them.
“There are families where you have got three kids sharing a tablet. And we have had kids trying to complete written assignments on a mobile,” Matt said.
“We have got really good at working out who is not joining in with lessons, and why.”
The attention to detail seems to be paying off, with a 95 per cent attendance record in online classes at Desborough. The school is also welcoming 30 students physically, who are under the key worker and vulnerable category.
But the pandemic has not been easy on anyone, and the all boys’ school has had to face challenges like all the others, aside from getting technology out to students, and making sure staff are familiar with it, too.
Matt explained: “The Government have chopped and changed but I think schools have thought: ‘we are going to put our kids first and do what is best for them’.
“I have never been prouder to be a teacher. To see how we have come together as a whole school, bearing in mind we have some teachers who are less confident with technology than others, it has been incredible to see how well people have pulled together.”
The issue over when schools should reopen after the lockdown has been talked about frequently (see p ?).
The question of staff safety is a big one, with many teachers perhaps older and classified as high risk if they were to catch COVID-19.
Matt says he feels safe with the way things are now but did have concerns about previous Government plans to reopen so soon after the new year period.
Secondary schools were due to go back a week after primaries, despite calls from teaching unions and opposition MPs that the new variant of the virus would run riot.
The Government eventually U-turned and a date for a return to school is not clear.
“I do now feel safe,” Matt said, adding that he wanted to get all students back as soon as it was possible.
“For that first day when the primaries went back, the thought of going back when the new variant was there wasn’t great.
“I was quite active in the community to put pressure on the Government to stop schools going back. It [the virus] was spreading like wildfire.”
As February half-term approaches and home learning is expected to continue, Matt will carry on undertaking his role in a way he and his fellow teachers never quite imagined.
A point summarised well by recently appointed Desborough principal Maggie Callaghan.
Having only taken over little more than a year ago, Ms Callaghan has had to put up with sinkholes outside her school and a global pandemic within her first months in charge.
“Wow, Desborough in lockdown. I don't really know where to begin,” she said.
“I guess the driving force has been the mental health and wellbeing of our boys. Our staff have once again stepped up and almost without blinking an eye, delivered a comprehensive remote curriculum.
“In short, I could write a whole article about how proud I am of Desborough: the staff, the boys and our parents - I feel that as a community we have risen to the challenge.”
MP Joy Morrissey has raised concerns after learning that a Burnham Health Centre patient has been unable to obtain a GP appointment despite ‘numerous’ attempts.