COVID-19 and the "Recovery Curriculum" at NHGS

At North Halifax Grammar School (NHGS) we recognise the impact that the pandemic has had and is continuing to have on the lives of all those in our community; none more so than our students. However, we firmly reject any narrative that our students are part of a “lost” or “diminished” generation.  Adversity is an important part of life, and learning to overcome it is an important part of developing resilience, confidence and self-reliance.  Our students' stories are still to be written and at NHGS we will use our curriculum to help each and every one to grow and to develop their potential.

At NHGS we support, nurture and care for our students. Our students will thrive and they will go on and have successful and fulfilling lives. As such, the “recovery curriculum” at NHGS is designed to be congruent with our ethos and values. We believe we can ‘do better’ than short term tokenistic attempts to catch up in a narrow range of academic subjects.   As such our recovery plan is based around the following principles (The 7 Rs):

  • Relationships. The relationships between students, between teachers and students and relationships between our school and our wider community all matter and will have significant impact as we build back better. We will be investing our time and effort into renewing and strengthening these relationships. It is these relationships that will provide the platform to recover.
  • Routine. The pandemic has disrupted the daily rhythms and routines of all our lives. We believe that re-establishing (and refining) our school routines will help students to make the most of their time in school so that recovery is achieved as efficiently as possible.
  • Reflection (and individual response). Each of our students has been on their own journey. There is no one system that we could implement that would support all of our students.  Therefore, our recovery curriculum will be tailored to identified needs as much as possible.  It will be considered and the measures in it will be taken in consultation with our students and their parents whenever appropriate.
  • Recovery.  Recovery is not just academic.  Although a Grammar School, we have never seen our curriculum as just being the ‘sum part’ of what is taught in the classroom. Of course, we  will support our students academically but our recovery curriculum will go much further. At NHGS the recovery curriculum will be the totality of our offer. This will include having full regard to the social and emotional needs of our students.
  • Reliability.  Our recovery methods will be based on the most up to date educational research. What we implement will be sustainable for staff and students and we firmly see recovery as being something that will take time and patience.  It must not cause anxiety and/or burn-out.
  • Resilience. The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of the world we live in. We firmly believe that by developing self-regulated learners who live out our nine values, we will enable our students to recover from any situation.
  • Recall.  At NHGS, memory matters. Part of our curriculum design is based around helping students to commit information to long term memory. We use our five NHGS memory strategies regularly in lessons to help students do so.

Our general approach to some key areas for recovery planning:

We have an enhanced safeguarding team in place as of September 2021, including the new Pastoral Officer who is a member of the support staff and is therefore available to liaise with students, parents and outside agencies without interference from a teaching timetable.  The DSL is a Vice Principal of the school and the leaders of all three sections of the school, Lower School, Upper School and The Sixth Form are all fully DSL trained, as is the Pastoral Officer.  There is a system of supervision in place to support these colleagues with this aspect of their work.  We are aware that, both nationally and internationally, the pandemic and its lockdowns and other disruptions, such as to livelihoods, have put many families under additional stress with attendant knock-on effects, such as increases in domestic violence and deteriorations in mental health and well-being.  We are also aware that during the period of the pandemic there has been increased attention on peer on peer abuse such as that identified by the “Everyone’s Invited” website.  We have set up a working party to co-ordinate our response to the safeguarding issues identified by and arising from such initiatives.  All staff are aware of the changes to this year’s Keeping Children Safe in Education document.  We are actively promoting messages designed to encourage students to come forward with concerns and information relating to peer on peer and any other forms of abuse and will respond with such additional resources as are needed to meet the challenges identified in our school community.

The key transition points we recognise and directly support are those from Year 6 into Year 7, from Lower School to Upper School, from Upper School to The Sixth Form, from other 11-16 providers to our Sixth Form and from our Sixth Form to University or to Employment with Training (such as apprenticeships).

In 2021/22 we have already run a Summer School to help our new Year 7 students to settle in at NHGS and forge the new relationships that will help them succeed during their time here.  Further transition activities are planned for September, including team-building days run by a local outdoors activity centre.  We will also run similar activities, on site and led by the RAF, to support the transition of students into the Sixth Form.  Students have also been supported by units of transition work designed to support the transition from GCSE to A Level study.  All departments are focussing on the use of diagnostic assessment to identify potential gaps in knowledge to prioritise key areas for teaching or re-teaching.  Where we can, we will be more flexible than usual in allowing students to change options as many of our normal taster lessons and assembly presentations could not happen under previous restrictions.  Where students’ learning has been most severely affected we have been flexible in allowing students to repeat years or to return to school to complete qualifications to the standard needed for them to move on to their chosen next steps.

As one of the first schools in West Yorkshire to secure a Mental Health Award, we have always prioritised the well-being of our students and staff.  We are well aware that the pandemic has had a negative impact on many people’s well-being (although we also acknowledge that for some others it has been a very different experience).  We have a well established welfare team who significantly supplement the work of our pastoral staff and systems.   All students are encouraged to bring any issues they may be having to the attention of NHGS staff at the earliest possible opportunity.  Most well-being issues are easily helped through early interventions from the most relevant sources.  Students can be signposted to the right places to go to get the support they need.  We have our own fully trained, professionally qualified counsellor who works full time in school and have additional expertise we can call on when required, especially in support of students with SEND.  Our curriculum includes sessions on well-being issues through assemblies, enrichment and form time sessions, as well as through RPSE, PE and other subject areas.  We will continue to take account of the workload, work-life balance and well-being of both staff and students in all decisions we take.  We continue to stress that the first step to overcoming an issue is to acknowledge it and to talk to someone else about it.

Academic Progress
NHGS staff and students generally responded extremely well to remote and blended learning during the period from March 2020 onwards, although there was, naturally, some variation attendant on a number of factors.  As far as possible, the school’s regular curriculum continued to be taught.  We are aware that we are welcoming cohorts to Years 7 and 12 who might have had even more more variable experiences than those already at NHGS.  We will be using diagnostic assessment to shine a light on what students do and do not know about the topics to be taught in each subject in each year group.  We will be assessing prior knowledge of key components and building blocks and will adapt teaching wherever necessary to ensure that students have sound foundations on which to build their learning.  Disadvantaged students and students who found lockdown learning hardest will be supported by the school engaging with the National Tutoring Programme wherever possible.  We have added some additional internal capacity to assist in interventions in some subjects.  We are confident that the vast majority of students in all subjects will complete their curriculum studies and find themselves very well prepared for both internal and public examinations so that they are able to proceed to their next steps in learning from a position of strength and confidence.

Personal Development
NHGS usually has a vibrant and diverse programme of enrichment activities, including,sport, drama, music, trips and visits and numerous other activities.  This programme was severely curtailed by the restrictions in place from March 2020 to July 2021.  A key priority for recovery is the re-establishment of this programme to as great an extent as possible.  While it will not be possible to run additional camps or French residentials to compensate students who have missed out on such key experiences, we will try to identify key learning that arises from such experiences and look to provide opportunities for students to engage in other activities with similar benefits, especially for more disadvantaged students.  We know that activities which encourage independence, foster confidence and offer the chance to challenge oneself and overcome fears or to learn leadership skills are vital in promoting better life chances.  They are key to successful course and job applications and, when many students are achieving high grades, can stand as a key discriminator in competitive situations.  Given that the pandemic continues, it might not be possible to do exactly what we have done before, but we will be looking to do as much as we can to ensure that we give students experiences that will allow them to develop key employability skills as well as interests and hobbies that might sustain them over a lifetime.