An extraordinary social experiment like no other…

I see no need for a long preface introducing the subject of my blog today. It’s Thursday the 30 April, so I am deliberately posting a day early, in case my readers take this for a May Day joke. I can assure you, that as far as my household and community is concerned, there is absolutely no joke arising from the crisis Covid-19 is wreaking across our country. That’s not to say there’s not a goodly amount of good humour around, there is. As a colleague speaking to me earlier mentioned, “If men of a certain age need to consider their lot in life, just consider what Boris & Carrie have been through over since January 2020. Quite.

The Scientists on their daily briefings are talking a whole lot about Randomized controlled trial: (RCT), which I paraphrase from wikipedia as follows: “A study in which people are allocated at random (by chance alone) to receive one of several interventions. One of these interventions is the standard of comparison or control. The control may be a standard practice, a placebo (“sugar pill”), or no intervention at all. These happen in all walks of life, and very much happen in Education really quite seriously. With the whole world waiting with baited breath, we are hoping to see in a few weeks what usually takes years, the emergence of both vaccines and medications to combat Covid-19. Claires Court is not just waiting, with trial orders placed for PPE to see how school-facing needs of heightened biosecurity can be met, as well as commencing the planning for classroom, building and outside space so that we can manage ‘#schoolreturn’ effectively. Please do have read of this current article from the experience in Denmark & China, highlighting the ‘new normal’ issues we will face soon.

RCTs can only really take place if only one thing has been introduced, and everything else has been left the same. And with COVID-19, we have that perfect experiment underway – the only thing to have changed in the world is the arrival of this killer virus, and the devastating effects that one disease organism is spreading across the word. We no longer can rely upon just-in-time management of world-wide deliveries from across the world, nor for that matter can we just import the labour we have ‘seasonally’ needed for harvest and whole scale building projects.  One of the immediate aftermaths is that we are having to grow our own.

All over the country, workshops are re-engineering to support schools in their needs, and our own printers, Media Ace reached out to provide for us these, personalised to boot. Their work reached BBC news on Monday evening, from 1:54 onwards. Of course, there are so many more considerations to bring in to play, sufficient separation in classes, reduction in movement around the school, medical and hygiene matters and such like. There’s no ‘Dummy’s guide’ here, so researching the successful returns to work elsewhere in the world is core to getting it right here at Claires Court. 

Our experiment also includes our choice to redesign what Digital Learning should look like, which has set out to provide a coherent response for all phases from Reception to Sixth Form. We know some schools have not reopened provision for home learning at all, and of course there are a huge number of families who have no access to technology or wifi at home. The BBC have embarked upon the provision of a range of resources to support home learning, and a country-wide school ‘Oak National Academy’ has been established to provide a framework to park those lessons on. As our parents have learned, we have chosen to pursue the agreed curriculum laid out in our year group curriculum statements for Summer 2020, logically continuing the coherent programme for the year.  We’ve had to make some tweaks, of course. We have also chosen to balance the academic component with social and co-curricular offers, not because they are easy (far from it) but because the evidence arriving in from the schools ahead of us in their experience of the pandemic that the children and families were so quickly overwhelmed by full-time school. To be honest, that was our experience before Easter, partly because for both school and home, our G Suite tools were accompaniments to our classroom, not a complete replacement for them. 

Over recent weeks, with serious research being summarised* and broadcast events from across the globe as well, it’s been fascinating to see how our plans continue to track what’s the accepted best path. What’s also noticeable is that new ‘behaviours’ are emerging in the digital classroom. Students arrive for class, but don’t want to be the first in. By way of pictorial example, this is what I mean:

Here’s a MEET I am joining, and you can see who is in the Class (teachers only) – apparently I’ll go in straight away of course, as my friends are inside. On the second image, I won’t go in (apparently) because I will be the first in, so will hover until others are brave enough to enter!






Where we are now is in a place like no other, and as a school that has no choice other than to pioneer its own route through the fog, we have submitted to our families our plans and we will be no doubt held to account if we don’t deliver. 

I’ll close with the impressions that our very many students and their teachers have left with us this week.  

  1. A student says… “Until Mr Google gives us Grid view by default, we’d rather not be ‘spotlight in the centre’ when we choose to speak”. (Google this week have gone grid implementation for MEET and free to the public. This is the general impression from students.
  2. A teacher says… “When we place a video in the work stream, our students will surely watch the video before attempting the work”. Actually expected behaviour looks like:
    1. step 1 – try the work without watching the video
    2. step 2 – ask a parent to explain about complex numbers
    3. step 3 – “I suppose I’ll have to watch the video
  3. A parent says… “It was quite difficult because…understanding how to pitch these ideas to {my children’s} age groups is a real challenge and it gave me – if I needed to have any – more respect for the skill and professionalism of teachers”.

The final quote is not from our parent body, but from celebrity teacher for BBC Bitesize, Professor Brian Cox. You can read the article here

The thing about this experiment is as Professor Chris Whitty makes clear every time he steps up for the Downing Street Road show, is that we won’t know whether our plans are right or wrong until the pandemic is over. What I do know, as referenced above and in the footnote below, at Claires Court we don’t just followed our gut feel or the evidence from Hattie below, but we are also adapting all the time based on the newsfeed from Europe and Asia as their schools work through lock-down and re-emerge the other side. Of course I still have my fingers crossed…

*Professor John Hattie – Visible Learning Effect Sizes When Schools Are Closed: What Matters and What Does Not


About jameswilding

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