School is a safe haven for pupils – don’t underestimate the value of that
Dr Pam Edmonds is Head of The Hampshire School, Chelsea, a 3-13 co-educational preparatory school with a heritage rooted in the performing arts. Here, she explains how the school has adapted to blended learning.
I am a strong advocate of the government keeping schools open during this global health pandemic and the reasons are very clear. The school environment is a multi-faceted learning environment that must ensure that all children are safeguarded in a context where mental health, welfare and maximising outcomes for all is upheld. Academic excellence and personal wellbeing go hand in hand. In my mind, there is no substitute for face-to-face, onsite, learning.
At the core of this onsite provision are the teachers who adapt their teaching to the needs of each individual child so that every child’s academic and personal ambitions are fulfilled. At school, teachers pick up on changes to pupils’ wellbeing and welfare, notice subtle changes in behaviour, the child’s attitude to learning and to self, and provide rapid support to children and families. School is a centre of trust where a child can speak freely and spontaneously to an adult and receive timely interventions if required.
That said, like all schools, we quickly harnessed the power of digital technology for continued education with ‘live’ lessons for our pupils to access from all corners of the world with an all-encompassing virtual learning platform during Lockdown 1.
This was enabled by investment in technology, staff e-pedagogy training and an awareness that remote learning is driven by ambitious, highly skilled and committed teachers and families who have the knowledge and resources to support their child’s e-learning.
In contexts where resources are not available, including when adults are sharing IT resources at home, there may be an adverse impact on the child’s progress. It is imperative that appropriate resources are in place for practitioners and learners for online learning.
Virtual learning requires a child to demonstrate IT mastery, not least in being able to open electronic documents, mute and unmute mics, upload work to a platform, amend text using online annotation tools, share self-improvement responses, share and present documents to a virtual audience and so on. Even the most computer-literate 2-13 year-old will find some of these tasks a challenge; ownership of such skills, although empowering and key to success in life, do take time to hone.
Therefore, while gaining technical prowess is laudable, connections with and reactions to pupils are easier to interpret when in a live face-to-face situation. In early years, through purposeful play, children create narratives together, learn to work collaboratively, demonstrate resilience and cooperate – essential skills for their personal and academic development.
One cannot under-estimate the power of school as a safe haven for pupils. The drive for free school meals highlights how important schools are to vulnerable children in preventing some children from going hungry. Our education system supports a highly diverse cohort of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Being in school helps to further safeguard all children and, in some cases, to avoid potential neglect.
The Covid-19 pandemic has tested everyone’s Growth Mindset. Robust risk assessments mitigate risk; however, we are mindful of those who may have suffered loss and trauma as a result of the pandemic.
In the physical classroom, the teacher is able to provide immediate pastoral support. It is testament to the profession that teachers do whatever is necessary to deliver the highest standard of continued education for all children. That provision, I believe, is best delivered by keeping all schools open.
The Hampshire School, Chelsea, is part the Bellevue group. This article was originally published on 11 November 2020 on The Telegraph online.