Off-site activities

If schools and groups can’t visit your venue, you may wish to deliver off-site workshops or programmes in their settings. Museums and heritage sites normally call this off-site work outreach.

As is always the case, when delivering off-site you will be in buildings and spaces where you, or your organisation, can work but have little or no control over the management of the space and the Covid Secure measures already in place.

You may already have existing risk assessments, lone working policies, procedures and practice in place for off-site working. You can build on these, or perhaps use resources from other organisations that already deliver off-site to develop Covid Secure sessions.

Colleagues have shared some example risk assessments on the Workforce safety and wellbeing page.

Check the website sections on government guidance for the home nations to find out if peripatetic teachers (someone who can teach across several schools) are allowed in schools at the moment.

Remember that school guidelines and ways of working are adapting during the pandemic as advice and rules change and teachers are still altering how they work to react to the current situations they find themselves within.  Even if you have already worked in the school everything might not be exactly the same as before, so check in advance of visits and be prepared to adapt to the needs of the school and the class teacher you are working with.

Consider:

  • Are staff comfortable working in a different setting? Do they need additional organisational sign off or risk assessments to work in other settings?
  • Are there any logistical challenges with working in an outreach setting? Can staff get there? Does it involve car sharing (currently discouraged under some guidance)? Or public transport? What do you need to transport for the workshop?
  • Who manages the building or space? This might be different to the group leader. Talk to them about what measures are already in place (ventilation, cleaning, hand washing / sanitising, toilets, furniture, social distancing) and who will be there to assist you with building matters, if needed.
  • Can you share risk assessments with the venue or group organiser?
  • What happens if there’s a local lockdown? This is especially important if you crossing area or national boundaries. Talk to the group leader about what happens in terms of cancelations and payment if you, the group or the venue are locked down.
  • Is the group made up of a single bubble or individuals? Follow the current legislation and guidance around household mixing, considering exemptions. Be aware of passing materials or objects across groups.
  • As with any workshop or interaction, materials or objects used will need to be cleaned or quarantined for 72 hrs, and social distancing will need to be observed.
  • At the end of the workshop, is there anything you need to do to clean the space for others?

Case studies

Wakefield Museums and Castles case study: adapting a schools programme in response to Covid-19

Wakefield Museums and Castles has an established schools programme of on site and outreach sessions, which halted with the Covid-19 pandemic. From July 2020 we started to receive enquiries from teachers about our provision in the new academic year. At this time, we were still uncertain how and when our sites would be re-opening, and schools themselves did not yet know their own plans and restrictions. 

Each teacher that contacted us was asked if they would discuss future planning and provision. An online survey had been sent to teachers in May, but a low-response rate coupled with a changing environment necessitated a more proactive approach.  It became clear that teachers were looking to book or at least ‘pencil in’ sessions that could complement and support their in-school teaching. The rapidly changing guidelines were complicating travel arrangements for schools, and so teachers were requesting outreach sessions over on site visits.

Extending the outreach programme

We already have a well-developed and popular outreach programme, and so a decision was taken to select sessions from the existing programme that could be tailored to still provide high quality engagement but within safer socially distant, Covid-secure delivery.  To do this we have taken the following steps:

  • Spoken to other local museums and galleries about their ideas for future provision from September 2020
  • Written a new Covid-secure risk assessment and Safe Working Practice for outreach delivery
  • Reassessed session content to revise handling opportunities for pupils
  • Rewritten content to ensure enquiry, thinking and creativity is still within sessions
  • Discussed session content with teachers before delivery
  • Increased the questions we ask teachers in the booking process to ensure we are aware of their procedures in-school
  • Amended our cancellation policy to cover local and regional lockdown restrictions
  • Requested teachers to provide a way to send presentations and support resources prior to the session
  • Prepared and quarantined session boxes, objects and resources a minimum of 72 hours prior to session delivery
  • Set up a quarantine time of 72 hours after delivery for session boxes, objects and resources

We now have 7 different sessions marketed and hope to be adding more as the term progresses.  Our outreach programme has begun to be delivered in schools whilst we are more distant from the pupils the content and engagement is still strong.

The spark in a session remains the objects we hold in our collections. Having chance to hold an object to get a tangible connection with the past is a huge ‘wow’ moment for pupils. Even now we have minimised handling, taking an original 1920s liquorice tin, ancient Greek pot or crocodile skull into the classroom still creates those ‘Whoa, is that real miss?’ moments. We still get to see eyes light up and questions provoked, ideas created and thoughts discussed.

Our suggestions:

  • Get in touch with your teacher contacts and chat with them to see how things in their school are working
  • Talk to other local organisations about how they have and are planning for schools delivery
  • It adds time, but ask questions in the booking process about safe working in school and how to send your support resources before the session
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes to plan, pack and quarantine session boxes and resources – get dates in your diary and stick to them
  • Remember the power of the object! The fact you have brought an object to school is a connection many pupils would not normally get
  • If you can’t or don’t want to move around the classroom, ask teaching staff to do this for you
  • Chat with your delivery staff after a session – check their welfare and how the session went

Louise Bragan – Wakefield Museums and Castles

Leeds Playhouse case study: Delivering arts in school: the new challenges ­– and unexpected opportunities – created by the pandemic

Building meaningful relationships with schools is always a challenge for engagement teams in arts and cultural organisations. Changes in staff and school structures, and the weighty demands from the government in terms of curriculum and results, make it tricky to maintain a strong connection even at the best of times. This year, when schools were forced to close their doors to visitors and trips were put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it felt like we were facing an insurmountable challenge.

But that’s not quite how it turned out. In fact, we, at Leeds Playhouse, have found ourselves in a surprisingly positive position with our Partner Schools. Our Partner School scheme, launched two years ago to help deliver arts in an ever-squeezed curriculum, continued to gather momentum and success this year, building on firm foundations to create new opportunities for us to work safely within schools.

Each partnership is tailored to the individual school and – even without the added burden of Covid-19 – each requires a serious commitment of time and money. Our facilitator artists run weekly sessions throughout the year at our partner schools, ensuring that every child has the chance to take part in a series of drama workshops and to perform. As well as providing valuable creative experiences for young people, we are also providing professional development opportunities for teachers.

When schools reopened in September after the lengthy lockdown, we restarted our work with our three Partner Schools, leading around ten hours of weekly arts-centred activity at each venue. Practically, we have had to adapt the sessions, focussing less on group work and more on individual or paired work (using school-identified learning partners), and cutting out resources that would normally be passed around the group. Our facilitators, who are all equipped with PPE and plan sessions with teachers in advance via email and zoom, position themselves in ‘teacher boxes’ – a taped space that students and school staff are not allowed into. We also allow more time for students to move around the school, and for cleaning between sessions.

We are, inevitably, learning and developing as we go, with facilitators reporting back after each session so we can monitor any issues that arise and work out new strategies. We are also enjoying even more contact with each of the schools, working closely with staff to ensure the success of the new systems and adapting when necessary. We collaborate on Risk Assessments, share information, and have revised our Partnership Agreements. This has all led to a deeper sense of camaraderie with our Partner Schools – an unexpected yet gratifying side effect of the current situation.

It seems that, despite the strict Covid-19 procedures, our Partner Schools are more eager than ever to work with us to ensure that students enjoy some variety, excitement and empathy in their school lives. When restrictions mean that Year 2 and above are expected to work at their desks – and even drama lessons are desk-bound – teachers and students are increasingly looking towards the arts and cultural sector to provide the variety that used to be part and parcel of their day. There is also now a premium on young people being given space and time to explore their own feelings, sense of identity and ability to empathise.

It will be a while before we know the full impact of the global pandemic on the education and mental health of our nation but, right now, it is deeply gratifying to be able to offer a creative outlet to children and young people, and to support teachers in their continuing battle.

Amy Lancelot, Creative Education Manager at Leeds Playhouse