Maintaining a school community is difficult when students can’t work together or with their teachers in classrooms.
However, educators, parents, and children can still connect using technology and online platforms. Teachers across the UK are currently engaging their students in virtual conversations and running online workshops to promote internet-based learning during the lockdown.
In particular, Derbyshire’s Repton School is paving the way for educational establishments through the transformations that they have made to ensure continuous support for pupils, not only academically, but also through remote extra-curricular activities. On top of this, Repton is also offering a high level of pastoral care so that any pupil struggling psychologically or emotionally has instant access to essential support.
Embracing Technology for Academia
Repton School has adopted technology to allow pupils the freedom to tailor their own learning methods. Instead of targeting pupils with online learning materials designed for entire classes, teachers are mentoring their students on a one-to-one level, critiquing and reviewing their work individually.
‘The biggest challenge in UK education is allowing room for exploration and personalisation when there is such a strong expectation to teach to summative, high-stakes tests,’ Director of Digital Development James Wilton says. ‘My experience with Microsoft products is that they allow you to do “content coverage” so efficiently and reliably (given the amount of organic oversight one has over the students’ work), that soon you realise you have the time and the space for more off-piste exploration. Specified curriculum content can become a jumping-off point for work that the pupils define themselves.’
Embracing technology to offer tailored learning is an approach that is already becoming prevalent in schools, despite COVID-19, to maximise learning gains and workload reduction. Repton School employed numerous technology-based learning materials before the pandemic and are now using this period as an opportunity to build on these, using platforms such as FlipGrid and OneNote for Education to ensure continuous support for students.
As the Secretary of State for Education says: though technology ‘will never replace the role of our great teachers’, technical platforms ‘can be an effective tool to help reduce workload, increase efficiencies, engage students and communities, and provide tools to support excellent teaching and raise student attainment.’ More information on the growing role of technology in education can be found in the Department for Education’s report: Realising the Potential of Technology in Education.
Education technology is already set to develop pupils’ digital capability, cut teacher workload, foster efficiency, eliminate barriers to education, and drive educational outcomes. The increase in technology use throughout education motivates a fresh pipeline of learning inspiration to motivate students, improve collaboration opportunities, and provide better access to information. The pandemic is leading some schools, Repton included, to embrace these technological developments sooner than they might have originally.
‘Our response has been to overhaul entirely our delivery of IT – for too long we have focused on delivering it as a functional standalone instead of weaving it into everything we do across the curriculum,’ says Mr Wilton. ‘We now have a design for a holistic curriculum which sees IT as the enabling tool for autonomous, exploratory work in all subject disciplines, and we are already seeing green shoots of a symbiotic relationship between ‘traditional’ subject areas and IT.’
Schools Shouldn’t Forget About Sports
It’s not all about academia though, and Repton isn’t letting the pandemic get in the way of their top-quality sports coaching. The school’s coaches are delivering sports and exercise videos with tips and techniques so that students can continue their physical education alongside their academic studies. Students are responding to their virtual sports lessons by sending coaches recordings of their sports performances for personalised reviews.
Outside of sports coaching, Repton is running a Remote Repton 100 challenge using the fitness app Strava. The Repton community can choose to walk or run 100, 200, or 300 miles throughout the summer term. The Remote Repton 100 is a homage to the Parker 100, a running event in the Repton countryside that the school runs every Lent term in memory of a former teacher. Though adaptations need to be made, Repton is minimising interruptions to the school’s events calendar.
It’s important that schools don’t forget about exercise during their transformations to online learning. By keeping sports on the remote curriculum, students continue to stay physically active, enjoy fresh air in quiet outdoor spaces, and gain the mental health benefits associated with exercise.
Students Need Pastoral Care Now More Than Ever
Speaking of mental health, pastoral care is a vital component of education, and schools are responsible for nurturing students on levels above and beyond academic success. Primarily, educational establishments must ensure that students are happy. This is a challenge that Repton was quick to embrace when schools closed in mid-March.
Repton continues to offer a supportive setting for all students and is delivering far more than their academic world online. As schools across the UK closed for lockdown, Repton produced an engaging, remote pastoral care programme within one week.
Pastoral support cannot be undervalued: Teen Mental Health reports that one in five young people struggle at the hands of mental health illnesses. Not only can the pandemic put students at an increased risk of mental health challenges, especially at an age when losing freedom can be particularly taxing, but schools are in a more difficult position to support students through these difficulties during the lockdown.
A survey by Young Minds concludes that many students are struggling psychologically at the hands of COVID-19. In the study, 32% of UK students agreed that the pandemic has made their mental health much worse, and 51% said that the pandemic has had some negative effect on their emotional wellbeing.
Repton has taken important steps to promote wellbeing and protect students as best as possible through their online platform. The school’s holistic approach continues to engage students academically, physically, and emotionally throughout the pandemic while staff look forward to welcoming students back to campus as soon as possible.
For more details on Repton’s remote learning operations, visit www.repton.org.uk.