Preparing for all eventualities – March 2020

Whilst every week of school is busy, this time of year Claires Court is at its most active, and with every part of our antennae ever focussed on the education, health and care of our children and staff as the Covid-19 epidemic develops, I sense ‘a quiet, determined, responsible leadership in many different situations and contexts’ across our organisation. My quote is from Geoff Barton*, General Secretary of the Association of School & College leaders, and it is so clearly evident at Claires Court. I write more in my blog today, but for now please be reassured that we are doing as much as we can humanly do to ensure the school is prepared for all the various contingencies, both current and in the future.

Our Executive Headteacher, Justin Spanswick is leading the school’s efforts to ensure that Claires Court pupils and staff , and in his breifing to parents yesterday writes:

“Please be assured that we are constantly evaluating the situation regarding the spread of Covid-19, and we are in regular liaison with the Department for Education (DfE), Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS to ensure we prioritise the wellbeing of our school community.

Taking advice from those external agencies, we have already made several adjustments to our provision for the pupils and staff. These adjustments include additional education on good hygiene, prioritising pastoral support for pupils concerned about the virus, and providing the required resources to keep the school as clean as possible. 

As the spread of Covid-19 continues, we have also cancelled or postponed several trips and visits to ensure that we are following all government recommended guidelines. Our ski trip to Northern Italy has been cancelled, our visit from Zoolab for both Junior and Senior schools is postponed until the summer term, and we have now postponed our Lent Term Senior Boys and Girls music concert. Further information on rearranged times where applicable will be available at a later date.

Backstage, so to speak, I’ve been preparing with our academic leaders and managers to be able to manage the delivery of teaching, learning and feedback to our classes should the government make the decision to close schools. We are well placed to do so, particularly at Secondary and Sixth Form level, as our teachers and students are well used to using G-Suite and Google classroom for the delivery and completion of academic tasks. Our junior classes are pretty familiar with Chrome tools too, and currently we are working out how to make additional Chromebooks available to our families who may face unusual competition for the 1 desktop device they have available at home. I do hope that we can keep ‘real school’ open for as long as possible, but with the ‘Claires Court Hub‘ now 8 years old, it provides a great repository of links and knowledge of how we work within the school.

It’s also great to confirm that a huge numbers of the commercial companies involved in education are planning to make their ‘pay-for’ services freely available during the period of the current unusual educational disturbance. We’ll be able to ‘live stream’ privately within the domain readily to large audiences, and eve hold Q&E sessions to groups of up to 250 via ‘Hangout Meets’. Working remotely, our teachers will be able to work in teams to provide ‘coherent’ batches of work for classes and year groups, and of course provide assessment, feedback comments and other support. And of course, since we have published curriculum statements for all of our year groups, it’s quite easy to predict what areas of learning will need to be covered in any 1 half of term.

I sense what won’t be possible via a ‘screen’ is the kind of ‘classroom experience’ that looks and feels like school. We won’t be able to plan for all of a class to be sat down together, to work together in real-time, partly because of course we have no idea of what will be happening in people’s homes on a day to day basis. What we have found though, when boys and girls have been ‘off school’ for a period of time, is that they are able to work successfully on a unit by unit basis. Young learners are usually able to consolidate their learning quite successfully on their own, learning lists and completing comprehension tasks and knowledge projects. What’s not nearly so easy is to undertake new learning where topics and concepts are unfamiliar. So part of our current planning will be to delay those deeper elements of a topic that might need some careful teaching first. The concept of stretch and challenge for the more able must still exist in our ‘digital space’ but we musn’t just plan new ‘lessons in how to swim’ by ‘chucking the children into the deep end!”

There’s clearly going to be a great scientific data capture around which country managed this current epidemic best. Like many school leaders in England, I recognise our responsibility to keep school in session whenever possible, in part because teaching ensures learning happens, and in part because parents too have roles to fulfil, for their family, for their employer and indeed for society at large. I recognise too that other countries are making their choices and they’ll be different to ours. The USA have just cancelled their Rowing season for 2020, and we see great rafts of cancellations of events, regular and one-offs elsewhere; Sunday mass is cancelled in Rome, and the Football has been put on hold. I do wish the best for everyone, as the health threat to the elderly and infirm is very real; such loved ones need the best of help at the best of times, and we must do even better for them over the weeks to come.

*Geoff spoke on #BBCBreakfast, and as ever he’s really worth listening to.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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