For parents and pupils alike, the beginning of the new term and the return to school has been a welcome start to the autumn. Pupils have been quick to express that they are enjoying being back amongst their friends, teachers and peers. The energy and buzz has returned to our school immediately, which is wonderful to see despite the safety measures in place. Over the last six months RHS, like many schools, has received many acknowledgements in response to the way we were able to maintain the provision of teaching without interruption. From March 22nd teachers switched quickly to delivering over 22,000 live lessons online during lockdown to pupils who were spread around the globe. As an EdTech 50 school, every pupil was already in possession of a school iPad or a laptop, was fully trained on Microsoft Teams and our digital learning systems before lockdown even occurred.
Businesses have responded similarly effectively to remote working and in many roles the efficiencies of remote working have become self-evident, providing workers with more time and companies with an opportunity to reduce costs. But whilst schools have been quick to adapt and adopt remote teaching and learning, the return to the classroom has come as a real relief. Teachers have faced a huge challenge during online delivery of lessons as they lack the ability to see the visual signs a pupil may portray when they do not fully grasp or understand something that would be clearly evident in a classroom. For pupils it is a return to an environment that they associate with learning. Bedrooms, kitchens and living room tables are no substitute for the classroom ecosystem.
There is genuine recognition that to be back in class is a positive step but as a parent (Yr. 11, 9 and 6) and as a headteacher, there is also a concern about what lies ahead. Further disruption to our children's education could be much harder a second time around and the initial novelty that was associated with a national lockdown may be replaced with a sense of frustration and helplessness for pupils who are already concerned about the implications for their future in the workplace.
At RHS our focus this term is to try and establish as much normality as we possibly can, whilst being safe and trying to minimise the risk of transmission. We want pupils to feel that their wider education and experiences have not been put on hold. We have launched the term with a new approach to running activities to enable pupils to get involved. We have broadened the offering for games and sports and tried to establish some of the regular features of the school term such as Divisions. We are delighted to be able to offer our pupils over 100 co-curricular activities, all run within the government guidance. All of these offerings provide the essential enrichment that enables our pupils to fulfill potential across the board.
Academically we have made changes to the timetabling to minimise movement around the school site but otherwise are delivering our curriculum as normal. Due to careful planning by our teaching staff we can confirm we will be able to finish the GCSE and A level curriculum in 2021 by the current exam dates, despite school closure in lockdown. Many schools may not be able to deliver this which is a key reason the government are considering delaying examinations across the UK next summer. Whether they do or don't, our pupils will be fully prepared for their exams.
Our watchwords this term are adaptability and continuity. Adaptability in our willingness to adopt new routines and approaches and a significant focus on ensuring pupils' continuity of education regardless of whether they are in the classroom or learning from home. On the back of our experiences with remote teaching, each member of staff has been provided with a Microsoft Surface device and undergone training on OneNote and approaches to dual teaching (teaching to pupils who are physically present at the same time as those accessing the lesson remotely). When a pupil is absent because they are self-isolating, in quarantine or unwell they can access the lesson remotely. This technology ensures that a pupil working remotely can see the teacher, white board, text books and tasks and is able to ask questions within the live lesson being delivered. Indeed, this is as close as we can get them to being in the room with their teacher. The digitisation of the learning experience also brings additional benefits such as removing the need for paper and digital access to all materials and notes after a lesson has finished.
We have enhanced our pastoral care system at school to include daily tutor meetings to aid communication and to provide a regular support touch point. Should another school closure occur, this will remain in place. This allows our staff to focus on the individuals in their small tutor group and provide early intervention and regular communication to ensure the wellbeing of every pupil.
After a week back, there is a huge relief that the planning has paid off and to see the classrooms and the sports fields full again, but our planning does not stop here and we are thinking ahead to ensure whatever happens we can continue to provide high quality education for our pupils. There are many pressing questions that are hard to ignore. Will we get through the term without a lockdown? Will we be affected by a positive case? What will the impact be on curriculum delivery if 'track and trace' reduces the numbers of teachers and pupils on site? What will happen to public examinations? And of course, will we get back to normal this year? They are questions that all teachers and parents will have but we cannot predict or influence to any significant degree and therefore our focus is to plan with continuity in mind so we can support our pupils both academically and pastorally regardless of what lies ahead.
I feel very proud of the way in which the pupil and staff community here at the school have adapted. The hard work, good will, collaboration and collective spirit throughout the pandemic has been extraordinary and I am confident that as a community we will ensure the pupils' continued education, in the fullest sense.
Simon Lockyer, Headmaster