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A high school in one of most deprived parts of Wales has run a full timetable of live streamed lessons in lockdown

A school whose pupils come from some of the most deprived communities in Wales has run a full timetable of live streamed lessons throughout the latest lockdown.

Willows High School in Cardiff has put in place a major programme to try to keep its pupils engaged despite not being able to teach them all face-to-face.

It has spent this week ringing up and contacting all its year 11 pupils personally to make sure they are ready to return on Monday.

All 149 year 11 pupils will also get a personal mentor to help when they return.

Pupils in exam years can return to school in Wales from Monday, March 15, as lockdown eases slowly. Schools can also choose to bring back years 10 and 12 and younger children for check-ins. All primary pupils over seven can also return. The younger ones went back on February 22.

Willows High, which teaches children aged 11 to 16 from the Tremorfa, Splott and Adamsdown areas of Cardiff, said it launched a major effort to keep in touch with all pupils and especially those in their key GCSE exam year coming back next week.

The school has employed six youth mentors who are phoning all 149 year 11 pupils personally to ask whether they will come in when they can return on March 15, what support they need and whether they have any worries about that.

Nearly all those contacted so far have said they want to come back on Monday.



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Every year 11 pupil will also see a mentor before the end of term to discuss how they feel as well as their work and future plans.

Assistant headteacher Gareth Ritter said Year 11s, who will be leaving at the end of next term, must be supported after losing face to face teaching and contact with peers for so much of their last year in the school.

He said the school’s contact with pupils and their families throughout the lockdown has strengthened relationships which he hopes will see benefits beyond the pandemic.

Schools in Wales have been shut to all but keyworkers’ and vulnerable children since before Christmas with only those aged three to seven returning on February 22.



A member of staff at Willows High with pupils during the pandemic

Around 83% of Willows’ pupils have attended live online learning, compared to 74% at the end of last term before schools shut. Staff have delivered devices, work books and even food to pupils and their families throughout the pandemic.

Mr Ritter, who has been working from the school building throughout the latest three month closure, said lockdown had been harder for those living in flats and homes without lots of space or gardens.

He said Willows wanted to ensure it didn’t lose touch with pupils, some of whom will feel anxious about the pandemic and returning and will have had hard experiences throughout lockdown restrictions.

Most have told the school they want to come back to see friends and get back to some normality.

The school wants to help them get the best grades they can with exams replaced by teacher assessed results. Year 11 teenagers also need help with plans to go on to further study, training or looking for jobs.

“We have done 100% live online learning and teachers have taught the same timetable,” said Mr Ritter.

“We have also employed youth mentors to ask Year 11s what they are finding difficult and whether they have lost any friends or family to Covid, whether they have done college applications and telling them that although exams are cancelled they have still got work to do to get those qualifications.

“If we can’t get hold of them on the phone we are going out and knocking on doors.

“We have been knocking on doors and handing out devices and wifi dongles and delivering work booklets every week to some of those who feel anxious working online.

“We know we cover some of the most deprived areas of the city. In my 17 years here there have been some challenging circumstances and poverty but in the last few months, when I have been knocking on doors I have really seen how sad it is for some.

“We have delivered food parcels and some parents have been working with our parent engagement officers and 60 children have come into the hub.

“In the past some parents would prefer to take us on than challenge their children but we have been breaking down barriers and a lot of parents have changed their opinions.

“Relationships have developed with parents and welfare officers, who are non-teaching staff.

“Our attendance this term is higher than before Christmas when it was 74%.”



The “new to English” class at Willows High, Cardiff, has been running in the school during lockdown closures. It is separate to the hub which around 60 keyorkers’ and vulnerable children have been attending this term .


Pupils at Willows High before lockdown school closures

Mr Ritter said the school was keen to keep the new contact and stronger relationships with families going.

One practical challenge has been the relatively old school building where corridors are not two metres wide. Strict one way systems are in place again ready for children and teenagers to return.

“They wore masks last term where they couldn’t socially distance and they were fantastic about doing that. A majority have said they are coming back and we are looking forward to seeing them.”

In their latest Estyn report on Willows in 2018 inspectors noted that around 44% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, which is well above the national average of 17%.

Around 68% of pupils live in the 20% most deprived areas in Wales, 33% of pupils have English as an additional language. Only a very few are fluent in Welsh and the percentage of pupils with special educational needs is around 41%, nearly twice the national average of 21.5%.

Mr Ritter said school wants to support its pupils as much as it can and is looking forward to seeing more of them back on March 15.

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