How your school can adapt to COVID challenges

Simon Lockyer

Simon Lockyer BSc, Med, Headmaster of Suffolk’s Royal hospital School (RHS), an independent co-educational boarding and day school for 11-18-year-olds.

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COVID-19 impacted every aspect of education through 2020, but at RHS, we were ahead of the curve having started our digital learning journey back in 2013 when we started to invest in EdTech. So, when the government instructed schools across the UK to close on 20th March, and school leaders waited for guidance as to how to proceed with teaching and which pupils were eligible to attend school, we were able to switch to a full online learning curriculum within 24 hours.

Our vision for digital learning 

Seven years ago, we made the decision to be at the forefront of digital education. We were already using technology for assessments, research and to support learning differentiation but we wanted to expand on the capabilities of available EdTech and integrate it into our classrooms. We saw an opportunity for every pupil to have a window to the world and information at the touch of a button. 

Implementing new technology meant we could do so much more within a lesson. The students could begin to produce work in new and exciting ways, using hardware and software that would enhance their digital skills. We did not see the project as replacing current teaching and learning methods, but a great opportunity to add to them.

Moving forward

We continually assessed the success of the programme and explored ways of integrating it further into the school. We invested significantly in staff training to maximise stakeholder investment, and whilst every child was initially equipped with an iPad (chosen for its creativity capabilities) we recognised the benefits of offering the option to bring your own device (BYOD) to our sixth formers to prepare them for university and the workplace and give them access to more diverse software. In line with our vision to be at the forefront of digital education, RHS became an Apple Regional Training Centre, supporting staff from other schools as well as our own community.

As technology evolves, so must we

We were always of the view that we would support and evolve digital learning with the right device at the right time. As software and hardware developed, we started to look at Microsoft Surface as a replacement for iPads for teachers and this has now been rolled out. The iPad was restrictive for file size and not compatible with a lot of non-Apple software which the staff need access to. We chose to use Microsoft SharePoint for document management, OneNote for digital note-taking and class/homework, and more recently Microsoft Teams for online communications.

COVID-19 Pandemic 

We were able to pivot quickly when lockdown was initially announced, minimising the impact on our students thanks to the already established digital learning system. Expanding the capabilities and implementing a sector leading programme of delivery is testament to the resilience and positive attitude of both the staff and pupils at the school.   

When school closures were announced in March 2020, we closed on the Friday, delivered teacher training on the Saturday, to ensure everyone was confident to move to online teaching, and reopened on the Monday morning, delivering all classes virtually through Teams. 

More than 22,000 lessons were delivered through Teams during lockdown. 

Pupil and Staff Wellbeing 

Our wellbeing surveys revealed that screen-time fatigue needed to be addressed, so we adapted the timetable to reduce the length of lessons and offered the opportunity to revisit lessons for clarity and revision if desired (which many pupils reported finding most useful). 

We removed PE from the structured timetable, but came up with lots of fun and innovative physical challenges for the pupils and staff to take part in, with many choosing to film and upload their efforts. We combined elements of our pastoral care with RHS community events to ensure no pupil felt alone. We held virtual cream teas and wear-green Fridays; we brought the whole school together for streamed assemblies and other events, including a digital choir ensemble (a work of genius thanks to our talented music teachers). We reached out and expanded the RHS community with lots of alumni joining in our online events and reconnecting with the school.

We engaged with parents to provide support when children were studying at home. We scheduled daily tutor meetings to ensure pupils had a regular touch point, and increased one-to-ones to monitor academic progress as well as wellbeing. We put a great deal of emphasis on engagement with the non-curricular events and activities and if any pupil showed signs of a reticence to engage, we worked through it with them.

On return to school

Once pupils began to return to the school, we continued to film and record lessons to ensure overseas students and those who are self-isolating do not miss out. This hybrid of onsite and online live lessons - known as blended learning - provides every RHS pupil with access to the resources they need to maintain their education and continue to be part of the school community throughout the pandemic. Our pupils are using technologies commonly used in cutting edge businesses as part of their day-to-day learning, preparing them for university and the workplace. Digital learning will play a huge role in the future of education, and RHS is proud to be at the forefront of its delivery. 

Royal Hospital School - We Are Ready


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