The last year has been anything but an easy ride, especially when it comes to education, but our schools have worked tirelessly to keep their students engaged and maintain a sense of normality – and this is how they’ve achieved it

Eddy Newton, Head of Marlborough House School 

Certain things don’t seem so important anymore! The key challenge for schools in these past few months has been to ensure that the children are supported emotionally and still feel safe and secure in school. For any remote teaching, the challenge has been to make sure that they feel part of things while cooped up at home. Having a seven year old join a form assembly from home, able to see their friends and take part remotely, has been more important than worrying about their maths tables or handwriting.

Schools have become more creative and flexible, traits that we are trying to pass on to the children. With no sports matches since March last year, games staff have been inventive between lockdowns, challenging the older children to coach younger ones and varying the sports on offer, bringing in orienteering or house events rather than another session of football or hockey. 

In the classroom at Marlborough House, we have already tried to ask the children to be more independent in their thinking and this has been accelerated in recent months. 

Having all the children back at school throughout the Autumn Term was wonderful. Celebrating the normality of each day has been valuable – children and adults’ appreciation of the simple things in life has been the most positive development of all.

Mrs Katy Joiner, Headmistress, Hilden Oaks Prep

How is your school adapting to new ways of learning? When the pandemic hit, most conventional teaching methods had to be shelved and everyone was forced to start ‘thinking outside the box’. There is no doubt that technology has had a massive part to play and enabled Hilden Oaks to adapt to a ‘blended’ learning approach – a mix between face-to-face (when possible) and online learning. Last year, children were taught in their respective ‘bubbles’ and came together for virtual assemblies and other whole school events, using Microsoft Teams. It has also meant that children can now attend lessons, virtually, with their peers. The school has invested heavily in technology, making iPads available for each child, and upgraded laptops for every member of staff. The staff also receive regular Microsoft training in order to keep abreast with the latest software.    

How can you support pupils, staff and their families during the ongoing pandemic? Family is at the heart of Hilden Oaks and therefore it is no surprise that the school community has pulled together to support one another during this extraordinary time. Keeping everyone safe has been a priority and communicating regularly with our families has enabled us to identify and support areas of particular need. Our small classes and excellent pastoral provision ensure that every child has a trusted adult they can talk to. 

What effect do you think the new normal will have on learning going forward? Children have learnt to take more responsibility for their learning during lockdowns and we saw a greater level of independence when they returned to the classroom. IT is playing a more prominent role in every lesson and pupils’ IT skills are highly developed. Pupils and staff have shown that they are exceptionally creative and hugely resilient. They know they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it. 

How can you make sure the whole school stays motivated and morale is kept high? We are really proud of our school and particularly proud of everything we have achieved this past year. Pupils and teachers have adapted, created and continued to deliver an outstanding curriculum and pupils have continued to make excellent academic progress. It is these achievements, along with our values-based focus and family ethos that keeps us motivated and looking forward to the future. 

Have any positive surprises arisen as a result of the pandemic? We have learnt that as a community we are extremely adaptable and hugely imaginative. Traditional events including Sports Day, Prize Giving, Harvest Festival and the Christmas Fair have all taken place in non-traditional ways. They have been different, but equally special and particularly memorable.

Mr David Sansom, Assistant Head, Sutton Valence School 

How is your school adapting to new ways of learning? Sutton Valence adapted very quickly at the start of the pandemic, with lessons, pastoral care and co-curricular opportunities provided via Zoom, OneNote and Teams from the start of the Summer Term. That enabled us to have a smooth return to school in September with many systems already in place. Our plan for returning to school ensured lessons could continue in a safe environment, and self-isolating pupils could access live lessons via Zoom and stay in touch remotely. Live video links have given everyone access to reduced capacity events such as Chapel or Headmaster’s assembly and departments such as Sport, Music and Drama have worked closely with National Governing Bodies to ensure they continue to be provided within the current parameters. Unsurprisingly, our pupils have adapted remarkably well and have been excellent throughout. 

How can you support pupils, staff and their families during the ongoing pandemic? Our established pastoral support and communication systems have remained in place and proved invaluable throughout the pandemic. Our clear patterns of communication with parents – at a whole school level or via individual tutors – have ensured high levels of pastoral care. Our wide ranging support remains as vital as ever, from housemasters/mistresses, matrons, and tutors, to our medical team, Mental Health Coordinator and School Counsellor. 

What effect do you think the new normal will have on learning going forward? It has accelerated the school’s Digital Strategy to launch earlier than planned. All pupils and teachers now use digital-link enabled devices for all lessons, and Microsoft One Note and Teams applications for work and resources, with more digital platforms being developed. Whatever may be around the corner, Sutton Valence will be more ready than ever, and pupils will continue to have access to the highest quality education – either remotely or in school. 

How can you make sure the whole school stays motivated and morale is kept high? Our Covid risk assessment enabled much to operate as close to normal as possible last term, whilst keeping the community safe. Consequently, things such as meals, sport, music, drama and co-curricular activities were able to be continued in the main, as well as Field Days involving school trips and over 100 pupils taking part in Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. It is important for pupils to continue to have opportunities to explore their talents and interests, whilst maintaining our high-quality educational delivery for all year groups – particularly those sitting public examinations. 

Have any positive surprises arisen as a result of the pandemic? The pandemic has brought to the fore just how much plastic is being disposed of with items such as face masks. The school community has recognized this and support for our environmental endeavours has been galvanized. Our Eco Society has been relaunched and over 40 pupils have volunteered to sit on the committee to address how the school can reduce its ecological footprint.

Speaking Sense

Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, turns language pupil A favourite word: smellfungus. A favourite book: The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (two weighty tomes). A favourite pursuit: looking up a word, getting distracted by other,...

Perfect Pitch

Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, sings the praises of music in education What exactly is it that drives parents to make huge sacrifices by sending their children to independent schools? Different families have different...

‘It’s not fair!’

Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, explains the importance of winning and losing with good grace The beefy second row lay prone, groaning, as the pack lumbered away. “Get up, Darling!” I cried. Opposition spectators...