Quiet playgrounds, empty classrooms, no one sat in the dining hall; for those teachers and pupils who have been in school during the nationwide lockdown, the environment has been one of stark contrast to the usual hustle and bustle of a day in education.
Tuesday, 30th June 2020, 4:45 pm
“The classrooms feel empty, the work we’re doing feels different and you’re working with a small group of children,” says writer and freelance drama teacher Paul Bateson.
“There was a bit of trepidation going in at first…You could see the children were pretty unsettled but like good teachers do, you put on a brave face and help them feel at ease.
“It’s quite nice that the curriculum has been a little bit more loose though… There’s been some really interesting work that perhaps a normal school day doesn’t allow for.”
Those differences inspired a creative project that Paul has been running with photographer and freelance language teacher Mark Ratcliffe.
Meet the people documenting their pandemic experiences for the generations of tomorrow
The pair have worked with three schools in Castleford – Castleford Park Junior Academy, Three Lane Ends Academy and Glasshoughton Infant Academy – to document the life of staff and students still in school during the Covid-19 crisis.
The result, Life Lessons, is a collection of portrait photographs of those involved, accompanied by poetry they have written to voice their thoughts and reflections during the unprecedented period.
“We wanted to hear their own words,” Paul says. “We thought this could be a document of the times and a reminder that there were teachers and students still there through all this.”
Among Paul’s freelance work, he supports staff at Castleford Park Junior Academy to develop a dramatic story based curriculum, whilst Mark teaches languages across primary schools in Wakefield and Castleford.
When lockdown began in March and schools closed their doors to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers, the pair were concerned about the impact on their work.
“Being freelance in education when schools have closed was a bit scary,” Paul reflects. “We were wondering what of our work would continue. The headteacher at Castleford Park has been really great and committed to keeping on all her suppliers during lockdown.
“Where she could probably have staffed it with her own staff, she got people like me and Mark to continue coming in to do things as well. But a lot of other work has dropped off…It was a little bit scary.”
Paul and Mark were on the school’s rota to deliver sessions to pupils attending during lockdown. Being in the classroom inspired their idea for the Life Lessons project, for which the pair received funding through the Creative Wakefield scheme.
Across the three schools involved, eight teachers and 32 pupils have taken part, their poetry and the images exploring themes such as what they have been missing.
Some of the younger ones were asked to pick an object in their school and consider what it is normally used for and how things have been different.
“They’d say things like the pen wasn’t making any pictures or the football was running out of air in the cupboard,” Paul says, “so you got this really nice imagery. We did a group poem with some of those ideas.”
The work has been shared with the schools and Creative Wakefield and there are hopes long-term for a physical exhibition to be displayed in Castleford.
“Life Lessons aimed to provide school workers and children the opportunity to voice their hopes and fears and dreams during this difficult period,” Paul adds. “Their words are also a way to reflect on all this when relative normality returns.”
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