Ysgol Clywedog staff and students in Wrexham have their say on lockdown education


One of the biggest challenges to a new way of life over the last 12 months, has been in education.

Schools made huge changes for the return of their students back in September, and then adapted further as remote learning became a longer term reality.

We have been catching up with a few schools to get an insight into how things are for those experiencing an entire new way of teaching and learning.

DID YOU MISS? Q&A with Alun School, Mold.

Today it’s the turn of staff and students at Ysgol Clywedog, in Wrexham.

If staff and students at your school would like to take part in our lockdown learning Q&A, please email claire.pierce@newsquest.co.uk for more details.

Matt Vickery, Headteacher

Matt Vickery.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Making sure all students and families have the IT equipment and support to be able to engage in the distance learning. It is not just about our students, their families are quite often working from home as well as supporting their children with the distance learning.

What, if anything, do you miss?

A busy school site; with only a handful of staff and students on site each day, the school is not the same.

Have there been any surprising positives?

The staff at Ysgol Clywedog have responded amazingly to quickly be able to deliver the current timetable through live lessons that engage the students, as well as the support staff who are keeping regular contact with all families. Some of these new ways of working will definitely continue after the pandemic has gone.

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

We are in a position now to take the best of both worlds and look to continue our improvement journey using what has been learnt in this current climate.

Anything else you would like to share?

A huge thank you to all staff, parents and students, who are going above and beyond to make the best of challenging times.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

My Netflix subscription is priceless.

• Alex Welsh, 16, Head Boy – Year 11

Alex Welsh.

Alex Welsh.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges of home learning for me are managing to keep up with deadlines with all the work set and trying to achieve what I would in a lesson in school but at home.

What, if anything, do you miss?

I miss socialising with classmates, friends, teachers and having the anticipation of seeing what a new day would bring.

Have there been any surprising positives?

There have been many surprising positives as an outcome to this, such as having the time to focus on out of school activities and spending more time with family.

How do you think things will be different in the future at school?

I think that a lot of learning/homework will be based more on technology, and websites used to help throughout the pandemic will be used more often in normal lessons.

Anything else you would like to share?

During the online learning period every teacher and member of staff has helped each and every student to the best of their ability to give us the best chance for the future we deserve, and I think they should get more praise than they are given.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

I couldn’t recommend a good book/series as I haven’t read or watched many books or TV series, but I would recommend going out for a daily walk to get some fresh air and a change of scenery.

Catrin Mai Owen, trainee geography teacher from Chester University, on placement at Ysgol Clywedog

Catrin Mai Owen.

Catrin Mai Owen.

What have been the biggest challenges?

My biggest challenge has been building a relationship with pupils that I have not taught before.

I start each lesson off by asking how everyone’s day has been and it has been lovely seeing our relationships become stronger each lesson.

What, if anything, do you miss?

Fortunately, blended teaching is all that I know having only started teaching in September. It was definitely a challenge finding my way around the school on my first day with each lesson being in a different classroom.

Have there been any surprising positives?

I have been able to use some creative online resources like using a drawing tablet in lessons and even using it in my spare time.

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

I believe there is definitely a place for blended learning in schools with tasks being set online.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

I have been following a 28-day yoga for beginners challenge on YouTube that has done wonders for clearing my mind!

Ella Simons, 16, Head Girl – Year 11

Ella Simons.

Ella Simons.

What have been the biggest challenges?

For me a huge challenge is probably making sure the motivation is there to ensure work is done to a high standard; especially when you’re in an environment where you don’t have the support of friends and teachers around you. Another challenge is the unknown and unpredictable nature lockdown brings.

What, if anything, do you miss?

Personally (and I assume for many others) the social interactions from friends in school are what I miss most. They are so important for our learning and social abilities and across the community, they must be heavily missed.

Have there been any surprising positives?

Yes! Every cloud has a silver lining. Being able to spend more time with my family is a definite one. Also being able to have the chance to grow more independently will help me going into college.

How do you think things will be different in the future at school?

I believe that after this pressure to use devices and all new platforms for learning, there will be a lot more opportunities to use technology; which sounds great to keen technology users, like myself!

I believe lockdown is challenging for us all and finding ways to keep busy and keeping our mental state healthy is a huge thing. I think finding hobbies you enjoy is key! I personally enjoy reading, playing guitar, and finding new music to listen to as music is such a huge part of my life.

• Keith Melville, Student Support Team

Keith Melville.

Keith Melville.

What have been the biggest challenges?

As with many schools, the Head has maintained a focus on keeping the school open to provide for the children of key workers and those that might be deemed to be vulnerable. As the pandemic progressed so there became an ever greater need to develop the expertise of staff to be able to deliver lessons online as well as a support team who were monitoring student engagement and welfare. All of this was achieved with a real sensitivity to the needs of staff.

There have been many challenges for everyone during the pandemic. Ensuring all students have access to learning at home has meant a tremendous amount of behind the scenes work in securing sufficient devices for students to use at home. Along with that has come the challenge of securing a range of different ways to give access to wifi and data. For those that preferred to work on paper there has been the challenge of producing materials and workpacks which have then been delivered home or collected from school. Supporting all of that has been a team of people ringing home to check on welfare and to encourage engagement. That effort has been crucial to also offer support for parents and carers who have somehow been trying to support their children at home whilst in many cases maintaining their own job.

What, if anything, do you miss?

Within the support team we have missed the opportunity to maintain face-to-face contact with students and staff. Relationships lie at the heart of any school community and there is tremendous value in all of those reassuring nods, smiles and words of encouragement that are exchanged in normal times throughout the school day.

Have there been any surprising positives?

It has to be said that some students have appeared to thrive during the pandemic. For some it has meant an easing of stress and anxiety which they might find in the normal ‘rough and tumble’ of school life. Some have benefitted from more time with family. Some teachers would say that they have been able to focus far more on the delivery of their lessons without interruptions or distractions.

From a personal perspective, I have taught for 30 years and the first lockdown brought with it the first genuine opportunity to relax and focus on my family and the world around me. I was listening to birdsong and watching sunrises that had gone unnoticed for much of my teaching career. I know that many will think that sounds incredibly selfish and indulgent when the world was in the grip of a crisis. I have never lost sight of the tremendous suffering around me but at the same time I have tried to find positives.

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

What has emerged is a growing realisation that one size does not fit all in education. Whilst some have thrived with online learning some have found the pace to be bewildering and have not coped at all.

Those who normally benefit from individualised support in schools may have found it extremely difficult to access some aspects of home learning and need schools to be open for that support to resume.

Some are talking about an epidemic of mental health issues created by lockdowns and the pandemic and this would suggest that children need to have routine, guidance and support, opportunities to socialise and some purpose in their lives.

Under these circumstances, schools need to maintain a focus on learning and on all of those other opportunities they offer their students on a daily basis. Teaching is about so much more than delivering lessons and the pandemic has proved that schools have a crucial role to play in the development of healthy, well-rounded individuals.

Recommended lockdown read or watch: To watch: Would I Lie To You – always good for a laugh; Amazing Hotels – good to remind you that there is still a world out there; Lupin – a great French crime drama. To read: Hilary Mantel – The Wolf Hall trilogy.

Leah Davidson, science and mathematics teacher

Leah Davidson.

Leah Davidson.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Adapting the curriculum to live lessons which remain interesting and stimulating whilst meeting the needs of all students, using both technology and workbooks. Within science, delivering practicals with household objects virtually with student participation, is particularly challenging.

What if anything, do you miss?

I miss the laughter, noise, discussions, enthusiasm and interaction with both students and colleagues on a daily basis. I miss being able to see the students and spotting when something isn’t clear, so I can adapt my teaching method to support them.

I also miss seeing them reach the ‘light bulb’ moment, when students have fully grasped a major concept which is the highlight of my day.

Have there been any surprising positives?

How quickly and well students have adapted to the ‘new normal’ for their lessons, remaining inquisitive, engaged and producing high quality work under their own motivation.

The collaboration amongst staff within the school and nationally has enabled resources to be shared e.g. quizzes and jamboard. This has improved the variety of teaching materials available enabling lessons to be student led.

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

I think teachers throughout the country will continue to share strategies and new ideas enabling digital media to be further incorporated into lessons.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching A Perfect Planet and Bridgerton.

• Lucy Boardman, 15, Year 11

Lucy Boardman.

Lucy Boardman.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The most challenging thing during this current learning situation is making sure I have got everything prepared for the lessons ahead.

What, if anything, do you miss?

The most important thing I miss is socialising with friends.

Have there been any surprising positives?

During online learning the most surprising positive is the amount of self-motivation I have found in order to do well with all of my subjects.

How do you think things will be different in the future at school?

Online learning has shown it can be a positive option for learning in future.

Anything else you would like to share?

The teachers at my school give me and other students as much support as they can via online learning.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

I would have to say watch a great film that draws your attention.

• Nicholas Brown – Head of Geography

Nicholas Brown.

Nicholas Brown.

What have been the biggest challenges?

I think that both the teaching staff and students adapted very quickly to the new way of working with such little notice, but there are some things that you just find it hard to replicate online.

At the start of online teaching it was very difficult to try and build any kind of class atmosphere. Speaking at 25 silent dots with students initially in the middle for five hours a day was pretty soul sapping. The longer this has gone on, however, we have all adapted and there is more chatter, more sharing and it is starting to feel more normal.

It has been difficult to respond quickly to little mistakes and literacy errors because you cannot just look over the students’ shoulder. When we are asking questions you get some pupils who answer verbally and some that type, this took some time to get used to as you have to give the less confident pupils time to think of an answer and type it in.

There are so many amazing programmes, apps and resources available free to staff and students that it is difficult to trial them out, filter off those that don’t suit you and get to know the applications available. Everyone is trying to help each other out and it is funny to see crazes with certain apps spreading across the school. I wonder if students are sitting at home thinking, ‘why is everyone doing this thing now?’

What, if anything, do you miss?

I really miss the fun. Fun with the other staff in the staffroom and fun in the class and on duty with the students. From mixing with hundreds of very different individuals and personalities each day to sitting at your dining room table on your own is a big switch.

You don’t get any of the banter or backchat online, and it is that that makes it fun!

Have there been any surprising positives?

I have been amazed how imaginative and resourceful our students have been. As everyone in school has different home lives and resources we are setting very wide briefs when it comes to handing in work.

This is really paying off and we have had pupils using Minecraft, TikTok, and 3D models to complete their work, along with the more traditional pen and paper. I have been learning from the students as much as they have been learning from me and will certainly be including their ideas in the future lessons.

The students have been really inspirational as well. We have had one Year 9 student bravely putting himself at risk to rescue people and property in the dark during the floods. We have also had a Year 10 student start her own online business to sell products she has made. She has raised £4,000 so she can travel to Tanzania to help build hospitals, toilets and houses for people in need.

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

I think that some form of blended learning should be in the future of all teaching. It has worked really well for many students, especially those that have potential but struggle with the traditional classroom environment. There is definitely a blueprint here to work from.

Online teaching has also allowed us to take Virtual Reality field trips to places all over the world within the space of a single lesson. Also, online parents’ meetings have made this process more personal and convenient for parents.

Anything else you would like to share?

We have so many worries about child mental health and loss of education but we have seen that children have a huge capacity to adapt and learn. We need to support them but we should not be afraid of finding new and different ways to teach and learn.

I have also found out how much I miss my bike commute to work. Sat at a chair all day makes you feel creaky and cold!

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

I am a huge Trekkie, so have been watching the new series of Star Trek Discovery and Lower Decks. If you have not seen it, Tiger King is a must watch too.

• Ronnie Westhead, 15, Year 11

Ronnie Westhead.

Ronnie Westhead.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Technical issues (wifi connections dropping, laptops freezing).

What, if anything, do you miss?

Being able to discuss the work with a friend during the lessons and being able to be around people at breaks and lunchtimes, I feel like that’s something that I quite enjoy about being in school.

Have there been any surprising positives?

Teachers have been really good at adapting to online learning and teaching properly through the current conditions, which were quite unexpected after the return to school in September.

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

I think that more resources and lessons will be focused through online resources such as Neopod and Google Classroom.

Anything else you would like to share?

I feel my work overall has maintained, if not improved, while doing online learning, as I am able to keep up with my thoughts while typing rather that writing, where I am quite slow.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

A great thing to watch during lockdown is Mr Iglesias and Modern Family (I’ve watched them too much).

Stephanie Harrison, 2nd in English Department

Stephanie Harrison.

Stephanie Harrison.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge has been finding new ways to do the things we’ve always done. Teaching over Google Meet has been a fantastic learning experience and has taught teachers how to mix up questions and task styles.

However, at the start of lockdown it was a minefield of new technology. We had to teach a lot of students how to even access the technology before we could even teach our subjects.

What, if anything, do you miss?

I miss my students and the day to day connection we build. With many of our students we’re sometimes the first face they see as parents have gone to work already.

I certainly miss being able to hear about the things my students get up to. They’re working so hard and are keeping up academically, but I feel that some more personal connections have been lost.

Have there been any surprising positives?

Seeing how amazing and resilient our students are. One of our students has been raising money, others create projects for the environment, another sending letters to lonely people. I have never been more proud of them

Any thoughts on the direction of teaching in the future?

I think a big push on using the amazing technology we have. We’ve all become (students included) experts on Google documents and Google Meets and yet before this year we rarely used them!

Anything else you would like to share?

I am glad that the community can see how hard we’re working at Ysgol Clywedog, and how much effort our students are putting in, they are truly amazing.

Recommended lockdown read or watch:

The 10th Kingdom by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It’s such a good story about how the modern world and the fairytale world collide. It was also made into a really good TV series!





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