9 July 2020
This has been an extraordinary and challenging season for schools nationwide and we are so proud, therefore, of the enthusiasm, positivity, flexibility and resilience that St George’s pupils and staff have shown throughout. ‘Remote St George’s’ has been a great success, and we are grateful to have received a wealth of positive feedback from our current parents about our online provision for the girls. As we look forward to welcoming all our pupils back in September, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the highlights of Remote Learning, to celebrate all that has been achieved but also to think carefully of what we might take forward into the new academic year.
As lockdown began and schooling, as we knew it, changed so dramatically, we quickly realised that St George’s was extremely well prepared to deliver Remote Learning. We had introduced Google Chromebooks to staff and pupils 18 months previously, prep tasks had been delivered via Dragonfly for the same amount of time and all our community, staff and pupils alike, were Google Drive experts. Given the potential complexity of remote learning, all our girls and staff have benefited immensely from having the one cloud platform to negotiate. We are thankful for the time we invested in training and preparing our staff and pupils as soon as lockdown looked likely. This has meant that we have been able to deliver a consistent and thorough academic provision from the beginning.
We have been able to offer a full complement of lessons for all year groups via Google Meets throughout the lockdown. As a result, subject departments report that they have lost little or no curriculum time, indeed we are delighted that a number of departments report being ahead of where they would usually be! We were obviously concerned that some pupils might fall behind and struggle academically without the one to one attention they would normally receive in a physical classroom. As a result, we introduced out of hours subject support clinics which pupils attend via Google Meets. We were also able to deliver end of year online assessments for all year groups. Undeterred by the obvious logistical challenges, the girls completed these open book assessments admirably with our teachers on hand ‘on chat’ throughout in case of questions.
Given the nature of the global spread of Covid-19, we quickly sought the advice of experienced colleagues at schools in China, the Middle East and Italy who were ahead of us on the educational curve. Having heard their reflections on Remote Learning, it was clear that schedule and structure were key. We, therefore, decided to keep following our school timetable in order to give our girls and staff a structure and rhythm to the day. At the end of the Spring Term, after one week of following this timetable to the minute, we asked for feedback from all our stakeholders, and we decided to adapt the timetable, shortening the lessons, giving a 15 minute break between every lesson and lengthening lunch hours. This reduced the girls’ screentime and gave them the opportunity to exercise, socialise and relax with their families. This change was hugely popular, with 90%+ of those surveyed expressing their approval.
The staff have worked tirelessly to adjust to new conditions in order to maintain a consistently high standard of teaching provision. Of particular note is the significant increase in the technological capability of our staff, many of whom were training in applications which they had not used previously. Teaching via video conferencing has become the new white board of this era and all our staff have been both innovative and inspirational in their use of this technology.
We have also seen how easy it is to facilitate a programme of visiting speakers when geography and travel are of no concern. Our Upper Sixth have greatly benefited from the #SGAprepared talks from parents and alumnae. Under lockdown, we have heard from a senior Human Resources director from the parent body on the topic of ‘Employability Skills’ alongside talks on ‘Conversations about Racism’ and ‘Resilience’ from recent Alumnae. The Parents Association also organised a session for the parent body with a wellbeing speaker from a Happy Mind who discussed managing teenage stress which was positively received and well attended.
The breadth and variety of the Co-Curricular programme is one of St George’s greatest strengths. We have been very aware that the intense nature of online learning, with the inevitable increase in screentime, alongside the loss of the normal co-curricular balance, would be keenly felt by our girls. We have therefore worked very hard throughout lockdown to provide an excellent, ongoing co-curricular programme.
The School seamlessly transitioned from the physical to the virtual, hosting events such as a virtual Open Mic Night, a virtual Drama Extravaganza, Music for a Summer Evening Concert, Sports Review of the Year, and online Dance, LAMDA and Music tuition. Our Theatre Director in Residence has also provided online Dance challenges to partnered state primary school pupils.
There has been a steady stream of imaginative physical challenges set by our PE Department to ensure our girls get away from their screens and prioritise their physical wellbeing. We take particular pleasure in the participation of many girls who would not involve themselves in “traditional” team games yet have engaged with and filmed themselves undertaking different creative challenges.
The cookery programme has been particularly popular during this period of virtual learning, giving the girls the chance to learn new practical, creative skills. Even our Headmistress Liz Hewer, has joined in on cookery meets with the Upper Sixth girls for their weekly #SGAprepared Friday Feast. We are particularly proud of our Lower Sixth girls who have been working hard to complete their Remote Leiths Toolbox Cookery Course. Undeterred by the logistical difficulties of remote learning, the girls have sourced all the ingredients and consistently delivered delicious, life-useful recipes to complete the 12-week course single handedly. Hilary Jones, their Leith’s cookery teacher, proudly spoke of the girls’ achievement. “They have worked so hard and are gaining a set of skills that will last a lifetime. Having to work individually at home has given them great confidence in the kitchen and has helped them to add such a positive contribution to family life during Lockdown. I am extremely proud of them.”As all schools reflect on the successes of virtual learning, we will be looking to develop this provision with a new cookery room in the planning.
Looking after, and caring for, the wellbeing of each individual within St George’s has always been at the heart of the school’s ethos and is intrinsic to the school’s reputation. We are a school that is striving to develop Capable, Confident and Connected young women, who are ready to take their place in the world beyond St George’s. This challenging season of Remote Learning has, if anything, proven and deepened the need for and strength of our pastoral focus. It was immediately evident that we needed a proactive, intentional approach to keeping both our staff and girls connected. Our Headmistress, Liz Hewer, has kept in regular contact both with our parents and with her staff, swiftly communicating any change to the Government’s guidelines and its impact on school life. We have run a number of surveys in order to gauge progress and give us a sense of the wellbeing of the entire school community during the period of lockdown. Face-to-face Parents Evenings have been replaced with an online provision. These have been very popular as, in many ways, they are more flexible in terms of time and location. Our parents have appreciated the opportunity to fit appointments around their busy schedules. It is a significant asset to have been able to meet with parents overseas or in jobs which would mean that attendance is logistically challenging. We have introduced the ‘#SGAtogether’ initiative, to encourage that sense of community whilst working remotely. The whole school community continues to gather together virtually each afternoon for assemblies, chapel, tutor time and Year group activities. In many ways our community spirit has never felt more healthy and the experiences of this season, of the sense of connection we have shared, will give us great food for thought in how we might revise and improve our communication strategies for the future.
Whatever our own reflections on this Remote Schooling season might be, it is the experience of our pupils and their parents that will give us the greatest satisfaction in a job well done. To quote a current parent to finish, “I think the school as a whole has done an amazing job to create as near to a school environment and keep the girls connected with both peers and teachers. For such uncertain times the school has made us feel secure that our daughter’s education and well-being are being looked after.”