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Rachel Watkins, Head of English at St Thomas á Becket secondary in Wakefield, spoke to us about how using Oak National Academy for lesson cover has relieved stress, improved pupil behaviour and given families peace of mind during school disruption.

Rachel and her colleagues at St Thomas á Becket have been using Oak since November 2020. In the early stages of the pandemic they were spending a lot of time pre-recording lessons to send to pupils and planning for lesson cover on a case-by-case basis. She talked to us in detail about how introducing Oak has been a huge relief and was a turning point in the way staff plan for disruption and provide consistency for pupils.

Oak takes the pressure off when teachers are isolating

Since Covid hit, more members of staff have been off, sometimes too unwell to set work from home. Ten day isolation periods have also meant significant cover at short notice.

Rather than trying to set day-to-day cover that’s adapted from the normal scheme of work, we look in advance at where specific modules from Oak map against our existing curriculum. Oak lessons and resources are free for us to use inside or outside the classroom with little additional planning needed.

If somebody calls me tomorrow and says ‘I’ve tested positive’, I can look at where they’re up to in the scheme and pick the next Oak lesson in the series. Alternatively, if that Oak lesson doesn’t quite fit, I can search for another standalone Oak lesson that I know they can really benefit from and fits our wider teaching and learning plans. All of this takes very little time and then the cover supervisor is set up.

Once the Oak lesson is found it’s simple. The cover staff member can download the relevant Oak resources – slides, worksheets, and quizzes – to use themselves. And they can even ’team-teach’, using the Oak teacher-led video playing alongside them as needed.

Alternatively, if we have access to internet connected devices for all students, we can send the students to Oak’s online classroom to complete the lesson independently, with staff supervising behaviour and checking for understanding.

Using Oak for cover lessons improves engagement and behaviour

With the increase in staff who are non-specialist or external cover providers it can mean these lessons don’t lead to the same learning of a regular structured lesson with a subject specialist or experienced teacher. But Oak is providing structure and consistency that leads to positive outcomes for both pupils and staff.

Cover teachers really like Oak. It makes lesson cover so much more manageable. The lessons are so straightforward and easy to follow. They are sequenced and structured so that cover teachers can ‘team teach’ with the Oak teacher in the lesson video. The natural pauses in the video lessons leave space for questions and discussion. This is especially powerful when the person covering is non-specialist or unfamiliar with the topic and it’s definitely improved pupil engagement.

Using Oak, we find that the students are much more focussed. It’s so easy for students to feel, when they’ve had two or three lessons of cover, that they’ve achieved nothing. With Oak it’s different – It’s work in their books, relevant and structured and they feel accountable.

In traditional cover lessons, if they’re not structured like a normal lesson, pupils are often left to their own devices which can have a negative impact on behaviour. I feel a lot safer leaving Oak as a cover lesson than I would leaving pupils making notes or reading. They pay better attention to it and it’s easier to see if they’ve completed the work properly.

Provides peace of mind for families

Understandably, parents have shown concern when teachers are absent from school, especially for a prolonged period of time or if teachers are out across different subjects.

When we speak with parents we’re able to say we’re using Oak lessons led by an expert teacher with a member of staff in the room to help check understanding. We can share that the lessons are structured in a way that keeps pupils on track and offers opportunities for supply or cover teachers to check in and offer support.