The latest lockdown was not so much a matter of 'if' but 'when'. Independent schools up and down the country have quickly enacted well-rehearsed plans for home schooling, whilst continuing to provide in-person teaching for key worker children.
13th January 2021 — Independent schools up and down the country have quickly enacted well-rehearsed plans for home schooling.
The latest lockdown was not so much a matter of 'if' but 'when' and in most cases, schools were able to dust-off plans shaped by the last lockdown back in March.
'The only thing we could be certain of was a bit more uncertainty' reflects Tim Smith, Headmaster of Hampton Pre-Prep and Prep in London.
'We had made a point of having a number of dummy runs, with different permutations and versions and different equipment during the course of the last half term, anticipating having to use that from the get-go this term – and it was fortuitous we did that... we try to be as ahead of the curve as we can.'
It was a similar situation for Andy Falconer, Head of St Peter's 8-13 in York: 'I am fortunate – like so many prep school Heads – to have a brilliantly strong senior leadership team...'
'Back in September, we thought at some point in the year there's likely to be another national lockdown... we had already devised a rewritten timetable and then just tucked it away... we had sat down in September and come up with Plan B and just hoped we wouldn't need to use it.'
At the national level, independent prep and senior schools have remained open for vulnerable and key worker children, providing in-person teaching. For the rest of the pupils, schools have offered remote learning.
'The online learning has been superb,' says Julie Robinson, Chief Executive of the Independent Schools Council.
'Most schools have managed to keep up with the majority of their curriculum requirements... but they are hugely concerned about well-being, socialisation, behavioural aspects... so many schools are focusing strongly on well-being aspects of pastoral support, checking-in with pupils and doing all they can to support them.'
And for all independent schools, this is the biggest challenge during the next few weeks. Delivering remote curriculum learning has been shown to work well in difficult circumstances but all the other aspects of the school experience – pastoral, extra-curricular and enrichment – are much harder to provide remotely.
'If anything it has shown us that... our schools are very adept at moving to using online learning,' reflects Julie Robinson. 'But we now suddenly value so much [the] human contact – face-to-face communication – in a way that we just took for granted before.'
You can listen to the full interview with Tim Smith, Andy Falconer and Julie Robinson in Episode 13 of Fresh Thinking, Attain's weekly podcast for parents.