Getting through tough times together: how one inner-city school responded to the challenges of Lockdown

The reality of the Coronavirus lockdown came as a shock and many of us struggled to adjust. For families who rely on schools for more than their children’s education, it's been particularly tough. Access to services, safe outdoor spaces, stability, a midday meal … formal and informal support of all kinds has been affected and it’s vulnerable families who’ve been hardest hit.

At one inner-city primary school - Bowling Park in Bradford - extraordinary circumstances inspired an extraordinary response. Along with grocery supplies and doorstep chats, staff are delivering family learning packs to those in most need, and a whole new approach to picturebook-inspired activities is helping parents and children play and learn together at home.
Real change takes place in deep crisis: Andreas Schleicher, Head of Education, OECD

When UK schools closed for the Coronavirus lockdown, teachers didn’t have much time to manage their response. In a matter of days, curriculum materials for different year groups had to be made accessible, online or via email, and it was difficult to plan for other interventions.   

But staff at Bowling Park knew they had to deliver a broader response. Their school is located in the top 10% of most deprived areas in England, 75% of their children have English as an additional language, 35% receive Pupil Premium and 23% have a SEN or disability. As one teacher at the school points out, these figures “do not reflect our children’s incredible resilience, kindness and care for each other, their thirst for learning or endless talents,” but they do provide evidence of specific needs. Too many families were already dealing with fundamental difficulties and the lockdown was only going to make things worse. As for taking the curriculum online, that posed additional challenges. Vulnerable households are lucky to have one device capable of accessing the internet and many lack basic learning materials, including paper. How would siblings in different year groups access digital learning simultaneously? And how would their carers find the practical and emotional resources to cope?

"The crisis has cast a bright light on deep inequalities, not just in who has devices and bandwidth, which are critically important, but also who has the skills to self-direct their learning, and whose parents have the time to spend helping. It is a stark reminder of the critical importance of school not just as a place of learning, but of socialization, care and coaching, of community and shared space." Jenny Anderson: How Coronavirus is Changing Education,

Like many teachers in similar commmunities, staff at Bowling Park prepared to deliver above and beyond the academic curriculum. Working with a local food bank supported by businesses, they distributed meals three times a week to up to 250 children. Along with groceries and a friendly chat they also delivered Family Learning packs aimed at children from 3-11 years, complete with printed resources and other necessary materials. To date, there have been seven of these packs, each inspired by a different illustrated book.

The school initially expected to produce fifty copies of each pack but this has quickly risen to 200+ copies, with families now collecting from a ‘Covid-19-responsible’ distribution point in the school yard.
The packs have been inspired by books, including Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton and The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
Helly Rhodes is one of the four staff members involved in creating Bowling Park's Family Learning Lockdown packs. Recently returned from maternity leave and working part-time as intervention teachers, Helly and her colleagues were able to address family learning needs while class-based teachers were planning year-group curriculum delivery and support.

As Helly explains, the packs set out to offer something fun and educational for the whole family to do together, but “not in the sense that some people think of education – more like turn-taking and telling stories…. things that have really important educational outcomes that aren’t obvious to the people doing them – kids especially! We’re not trying to replicate the learning that would have happened in the classrooms, we’re trying to do something different – which is to bring families together to enjoy learning.” 

Helly Rhodes and her son playing a drama game that encourages imaginative thinking and develops language skills 

Inspired by really good book choices with the depth and quality to appeal to a wide range of ages and abilities, Bowling Park's packs include art, writing, science and PE challenges, together with games and discussion starters. 

It’s one thing to create and distribute learning packs, but will they be used? Written resources can be daunting for parents who lack the experience or confidence to interpret materials of this kind without support. So the Bowling Park teachers decided to take another step. In a time of isolation, they reasoned, why not bring families together using social media? Why not support parents and carers by sharing activities with them in a video? 

The school has its own YouTube channel, and Bowling Park’s Family Learning Playlist now features a growing number of videos made by members of staff for families at home in Lockdown. Some videos offer introductions to individual packs, all are cheerful, chatty and accessible, and many feature staff demonstrating activities in their own homes.

As Helly Rhodes observes, these videos “are wonderfully real – my dog likes to get involved when me and my little boy are busy, and you can see my colleague’s little one napping in the background while she’s doing a craft activity with her three-year-old. We feel more connected with the children in their homes because we’re speaking directly to them in the videos, and we know they’re out there watching because we can see how many views we’ve had. And seeing us in our homes with our families and pets is a connection for the children, too. It’s a new level of connection for all of us.” 

To watch Helly Rhodes sharing a PE challenge inspired by Peter H. Reynolds' The Dot (published by Walker Books) click here 

Taken as a whole, Bowling Park’s family learning videos really are quite striking, particularly when you know the context, and it’s interesting to see how they complement and extend the activities included in the packs. The presenters are friendly and welcoming, and as you’d expect, they’ve considered resource limitations and safeguarding issues - art activities are demonstrated using lined filepaper and a biro, for example, and safety advice is delivered in a sensible, low-key way throughout. There’s a raw sense of energy, commitment and vision about these films that gives them huge appeal, and not just to families stuck at home in trying times. Quite how the staff involved have managed to research and put together the printed packs and make the videos in such a short space of time is a testament to their energy, care and commitment. It's effective, too -  we're much more likely to have a go at something if someone shows us how. And in demonstrating these activities in real time with their own children in a video - practical challenge and slip-ups included - Bowling Park staff are sharing so much more than task logistics and techniques. 

So how's it going? What impact has this had?

Over the past month, the school’s YouTube channel has had 10,800 visits. It’s too early to assess how individual families have reacted to the learning packs and videos, but it does look as though this initiative will have an ongoing impact, particularly on the development of Bowling Park’s homework policy.

“Before the lockdown, there’d been some talk of changing the way we were doing homework,” Helly explains. “The idea was potentially to do more topic-based homework that would involve the whole family, but nothing had been launched. So it was floating around in people’s heads that we could give children a book or poem or picture, together with activities to try at home with their family, but there hadn’t been a big push. Now, the idea is being tested. It’s a great way to have family time together - and if you’ve got three or four kids at the school, it really makes sense for their homework to be inspired by the same material or theme.”

What about the staff involved in creating these packs? What kind of impact has this project had on them? Helly says that for her, it’s been helpful as well as enjoyable. “And the other teachers have said the same thing. We’ve all got young children, so it’s giving us some structure for our own family time at home. I’m not just planning the activities, I’m doing them, and it reminds you that some of the best learning comes when you don’t realise you’re doing it - and that really wanting to do these activities, and them being family-centred, is incredibly valuable.”

Printing with kitchen implements - photo from a Bowling Park family learning pack

As Jenny Anderson observed at, “the pandemic is forcing educators, parents, and students to think critically, problem-solve, be creative, communicate, collaborate and be agile. It is also revealing that there is another way.”

Staff at Bowling Park have responded to the crisis by forging a creative and compassionate new path. Cast of Thousands will be reporting back on how they’re getting on - but until then, please do share your stories about the new directions you’re taking through this crisis, particularly if they involve innovative approaches to books and storytelling. We’d love to hear from you!

If you're logged in, you can leave a comment below this post. Or email us on our Contact page here

Please also use this email if you’d like to ask any questions about Bowling Park Primary School’s Family Learning project.


And if you’d like to know more about Bowling Park’s Family Learning Packs, read on…


Bowling Park’s Family Learning Lockdown Packs Spring 2020

So far there have been seven packs inspired by the following books and themes.

Week 1 - Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak, Red Fox

Expressing and understanding emotions, imaginative journeys, monster fun and games

Week 2 - The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton, Tate Publishing 

Spring, growing seeds and plants, the power of imagination, sharing joy and hope, passage of time (and waiting…)

Week 3 - The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, Walker Books
Mark-making, creativity and art, confidence, self-expression, dots and spots

Week 4 - The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers, Walker Books 

Shadows, rabbits, friendship, managing your fears

Week 5 - Celebrations in May

The UK’s 75th Anniversary of VE Day, Eid al-Fitr and other festivals and celebrations. Friends and family, the history of VE Day, memories and hopes, party games and special food 

Week 6 - The Book of Hopes: Words and Pictures to Comfort, Entertain and Inspire Children During Lockdown
Edited by Katherine Rundell with contributions from more than a hundred children's writers and illustrators. Available free to read on The National Literacy Trust's website - see link at the bottom of this blog

Week 7 - Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup, Caterpillar Books
Celebrating community closeness through shared hopes and dreams

Some of the activities explored so far

Investigating and drawing shadows using toys, cutouts, your family and pets, plus a light source like a torch or phone

PE challenges – follow the trail of dots to complete the fitness challenge 

Listening to stories and poems

Observational drawings of daffodils donated by a local garden centre

‘Tie dye’ art activities using felt tips, a plastic bag and wet paper

Guided internet exploration to find out about VE Day

‘Spreading joy from your balcony’ with rainbows, painted pebble art and more

Constructing noisemakers and sharing a family ‘wild rumpus dance’

Translating a picturebook story into home language for your family

Writing an acrostic poem

Investigating paper boats

Creating sound effects

Making a den

And much more....!


Links and Resources 

To read more about The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton (Tate Publishing) in our Cast of Thousands blog, click here  

To view Bowling Park Primary School’s YouTube channel click here

To visit Bowling Park Primary School’s website, click here

To read A Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell and available free on the Literacy Trust's website, click here

To read The Coronavirus Pandemic is Re-shaping Education by Jenny Anderson at click here 

To discover other global education innovations during the current Covid-19 crisis click here 

The best books and stories open doors to new places and introduce children to people – real and imaginary - they wouldn’t have met otherwise. At a time of huge anxiety, lack of personal interaction and massive curtailment of physical freedom, it’s even more important to have opportunities for imaginative journeys – to be able to escape through stories and pictures, in the joy of words and information, and by exploring new ideas


Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2024 All rights reserved.
This article/information may be printed freely for use in schools and other learning settings but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of Cast of Thousands

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