As we prepare for a full return to school in September the Bellevue senior schools are naturally reflecting on what might await them in the classroom with some year groups who have had no face-to-face teaching for up to five months. We have all seen in the media the headlines of “a lost generation” and talk of what has been “missed” in lockdown along with the exam boards’ reaction to the slimming down content and requirements in a whole range of subjects for those taking examinations in the summer of 2021. Fortunately, aided by our schools’ reaction in setting up full remote learning in this period the reality may actually be much more positive.
Some subject teachers have reported that they have covered more material online where pupils are working away from the distractions of their neighbours. In the words of one head, remote learning has seen the lesson itself “mature” into part of a process rather than a “standalone” where knowledge is imparted therefore more akin to a university seminar rather than a secondary lesson. This has involved students pre-reading, accessing Powerpoint presentations before the lesson, leading to questions to the teacher who becomes a tutor guiding learning. In other cases, the adjusted timetable and lesson structure (longer with three stages of introduction, pupil work and plenary) lent itself far more to independent study and equal individualised attention from teachers. Quieter, often pupils with low levels of confidence, have flourished in this new world away from the classroom environment and have also had more attention from teachers. Greater choice in open-ended tasks and approaches have also emerged as major positives from surveys of the pupils themselves. In addition, many pupils felt they could concentrate more and feel more in control of their learning.
Should we therefore keep it this way? The answer is that whilst there have been possibly unexpected gains there are real attractions of a return to physical school. One pupil described an online lesson as one with no “fat” and that nothing replaces the necessary exchange between teacher, live explanations from a passionate subject specialist or learning through activities such as science practicals rendered impossible in lockdown. Bellevue staff also cited a waning in enthusiasm as we entered the third or fourth month of remote learning or other groups of pupils who miss the productive social and collaborative aspects of any vibrant classroom. The variety of home environments, parental support, technology and equipment mean that it is often hard to generalise about learning across all our schools for all our pupils.
One certainty is that there is plenty to build on and be positive about in our senior schools in September and, as ever, good teachers on return to school will assess where their pupils are both in terms of knowledge and study habits. My guess is that they will be pleasantly surprised that many of our pupils will have progressed as independent learners in lockdown and will also seek to preserve some aspects of their planning for online teaching whilst embracing the pleasure of seeing real faces again!