After half a term back at BGS, the many COVID-enforced changes to routines and practices are starting to feel more familiar. But just as we become comfortable with our ‘new normal’ we now find ourselves in a second national lockdown. This time schools remain open but, across the country, groups of children and staff are experiencing short returns to remote learning, caused by the need to self-isolate.
At BGS we know we were incredibly fortunate in how we were able to operate during the first lockdown. Over the Easter holiday we rewrote the timetable to allow us to move to deliver live lessons, presented by teachers through Microsoft Teams. As one parent put it in an email, ‘From a standing start, BGS successfully moved to an entirely different teaching model seemingly overnight and that was incredible to watch.’
In truth though, we didn’t have to come at this from a standing start. The use of technology has long been embedded across BGS. For several years, all our Senior School pupils and teaching staff have been issued with iPads. These are centrally managed by BGS, allowing our IT team to roll out software and a standardised set up, meaning we knew precisely what technology was available to all our pupils.
Many subjects were already making use of online technology to access textbooks and teaching resources and to collaborate on work in the classroom, so when the switch to remote learning happened, pupils and staff were already familiar with much of the software and systems they would be using. Having the tech in place, and the skill base to use it, definitely smoothed the transition to remote learning.
This is not to suggest that the changes were simple. Staff worked incredibly hard over Easter to ‘upskill’, building on their existing knowledge, in order to be able to deliver such a strong learning experience, including the use of ‘rooms’ within their lessons to allow pupils to interact in small groups as they would in a real lesson. Thanks to interactive video lessons and the use of OneNote, teachers and pupils were able to interact on written work too.
After the frantic scramble to get it all in place, we were bolstered to hear from BGS families that lessons were going well.
‘We consider ourselves to be very lucky to be part of a school that has managed to keep the pupils so strongly engaged with their learning during lockdown, and we feel you have adapted the lessons incredibly well to an online platform.’
‘It is evident the school has done everything possible to allow all years to continue to learn whilst also giving the children a rare opportunity to learn how to develop their skills such as self-motivation, patience and resilience – all of which they will benefit from.’
In this way, learning continued pretty much uninterrupted, evidenced by the seamless way learning picked up when we returned in September. But while academic education may be the ‘bread and butter’ of a school’s existence, every bit as important is the support and sense of community a school provides its pupils.
Rather than a full, live online timetable, we chose to allow space for twice-weekly tutor check-ins and regular wellbeing activities. In such uncertain times it was important that BGS offered a sense of normality but also that we didn’t add to the stress that families found themselves under. Having put the care and wellbeing of our pupils at the centre of all our considerations, it was wonderful to receive messages like those below from parents.
“Our children have felt supported and reassured throughout the lockdown period and we are very grateful for that.”
“Throughout lockdown they have remained happy and positive and your staff have had a huge impact on that.”
“The hard work, care and kindness that shines through from your school created the most amazing and most exemplary school year for our daughter.”
2020 has undeniably been a challenging year for everyone. But as well as opportunities lost to the pandemic, were some gained? At BGS our use of technology to deliver remote learning showed us new ways of teaching and engaging with our pupils that will remain embedded in our work back in the classroom. And the valuable skills of self-motivation, independence and resilience our pupils developed should not be overlooked. Pupils also became increasingly tech savvy, learning not only how to use specific programmes and technology but also seeing the potential that IT can offer us, valuable knowledge for children who will work entirely in the digital age.
If we do have to return to remote learning in the future, I am confident that BGS has developed a model that can support our children in their education and in their wellbeing. However, I sincerely hope that, despite all the work that went into establishing it, it is never needed again.
Dan Stone, Deputy Head – Academic