Our entire Heathcote community has embraced a new way of learning that has been imposed upon us by the Coronavirus pandemic. We have been truly inspired by everyone’s willingness to make this a success, and the capacity and resilience of our pupils, staff and parents for learning how to use a whole new educational environment in such a short space of time.
On Wednesday 18th March 2020 at 5pm, Boris Johnson announced that in an effort to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) all state schools would close – and all independent schools would be asked to close – on Friday 20th March. At that very moment, all Heathcote teachers were in a training session learning to use the collaboration platform that we had chosen to allow us to continue to teach our pupils through online lessons, in preparation for school closure should it happen.
No school wants to close its doors to its pupils and we know it will be tough on pupils and teachers to spend so much time apart. We also know that our parents and pupils expect a high-quality, teacher-led education from us at Heathcote; as soon as we thought closure may be a possibility, we started looking at how we would keep our Heathcote community together and to continue our pupils’ education, even if we couldn’t be in classrooms together.
We are fortunate to have technology expertise within our Management Board, our staff and our IT Support consultants. Together we evaluated all the collaboration applications out there – and there are so many! – to determine which would give our pupils the best experience.
Our preference was also for a licensed platform that includes technical support and should not face capacity issues as the whole world becomes more reliant upon online communication. We had already pro-actively asked our parents to inform us what technology capabilities they had at home to facilitate online learning and also took this into consideration as we defined our way forward. No platform is perfect but we quickly made decisions on which applications to use and started to configure and test these, and write user guides for staff and pupils.
Within three hours of Mr Johnson’s announcement, we sent out a letter to parents outlining how we were planning to teach their pupils online after the Easter break. Alongside this we sent a request to parents asking for consent for face-to-face sessions and to allow us to set up restricted pupil Heathcote School email address – which only allow the pupils to send and receive emails from each other and their teachers. Pupils in years 3-6 were also requested to read and acknowledge the guidelines and rules that formed part of this consent.
Pupils who were in school for the next two days were given lessons in how to access and use the online platform and staff continued their training – all in addition to the usual lessons and preparing paper-based take home packs for the one remaining week of the Spring term. We waved off our children on the Friday afternoon with their packs and an energetic dance in the front playground led by Mr D, who has kindly also recorded a version of this for pupils (and parents!) to work out to during the holidays. Move over Joe Wicks!
The next week, while pupils continued their learning through their packs, teachers continued to learn how to use and configure the platform to make sure it works to teach their lessons, whilst also teaching our key worker pupils on site at school. Emails were sent, catch ups were scheduled, and the moment when the pupils met up with their teachers online for the first time was brilliant. The beaming faces of the pupils as they saw their teacher and each other online was fantastic, and quite emotional for all of us that have come so far in such a short space of time.
This is the start of an incredible journey. We’ve been extremely proud and humbled by the supportive feedback we’ve received from our parents and would like to thank you all for your ongoing support. The school grounds themselves are not the same without the bubbly, happy energy of our whole community, and aches for the return of our families.