How Swanbourne House implemented a virtual learning platform in response to the Covid-19 crisis
The closure of education establishments following the Covid-19 outbreak created urgent challenges for schools on how the education of their pupils would continue during the crisis. Swanbourne House School faced the challenge with planning, endeavour and creativity, to help ensure its students continued to receive, as best as possible, the high standards of teaching the school prides itself on. Not perfect, and not without challenge, this article describes how steps were taken to create a virtual learning programme at Swanbourne House School…
As the situation escalated, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at Swanbourne House were closely monitoring the response to the spread of Covid-19 and the government advice that the public was receiving. Following the situation in European countries seen in early March, the team were confident that school closures would soon be enforced in the UK. A week before Swanbourne House closed – taking the decision to close two days earlier than the government mandate to help protect staff, pupils and their families –the Senior Leadership Team met for a curriculum crisis planning meeting.
At this meeting, they looked at what realistically could be done for the pupil’s education during a prolonged period of virtual learning whilst also following advice from the school’s ICT contractor. They investigated what teachers could be reasonably be expected to achieve from lessons, how to best meet the needs of the pupils and how the curriculum could continue to be progressed during physical absence from the school.
The school’s early preparation meant that within two days of school closure, the virtual learning plan was created. Teachers were asked to have two school days of work ready for pupils that wouldn’t require digital output – this gave the school 48 hours to fine tune and implement the online learning programme.
The Swanbourne Digital Platform utilised Moodle (teaching software that allows upload of lesson plans and for pupils to upload work in return) and Microsoft Teams. These allowed students to log in to live lessons in a revised school timetable.
There was natural anxiety from teachers on how they could implement quality interactive lessons in a virtual setting. Whilst impossible to recreate all the benefits of the classroom, Swanbourne teachers have been able to create live lessons through the digital platform and pupils have adapted incredibly well to this new learning environment.
Within the first week, over 115 hours of online lessons were being taught.
Throughout these lessons, teachers can share clips and content with the students. Work can be uploaded for review, classroom discussions and debates had, and, most importantly, live teaching can take place. The teachers wanted to be able to communicate across a whole lesson – the Swanbourne Digital Platform has allowed them to do this. There isn’t a reliance on pupils just working through workbooks independently. It feels like a classroom for the pupils.
To ensure aspirations and standards remain high, progress of children continues to be monitored and end of year reports will be as full as possible, taking into account progress across this period of digital learning. Assessments traditionally carried out in May, will still go ahead and be done from home.
For a primary school, the level of support offered by Swanbourne House is rare. A robust learning experience that doesn’t just rely on learning packs, giving pupils from five years old virtual access to their teacher, is something the school has worked hard to achieve and is incredibly proud to implement for its pupils.
Swanbourne’s holistic approach to education means that virtual learning doesn’t stop at the classroom. The school is working on a reward programme where pupils can earn badges for doing enrichment activities at home – from baking a cake to den building to gardening (all supported by online ‘how to’ films from teachers). In games, the sports department created films on how to hone cricket skills whilst away from the crease. This included bowling at a kitchen chair, and throwing and catching techniques. Keep fit videos using Easter eggs in a home work-out were also created and shared!
Routine is incredibly important to the school week. As well as following a structured learning timetable, including registration with form tutors in the morning, online assemblies led by Mrs Thorpe (Head at Swanbourne House), featuring announcements, achievements and performances are shared with pupils – this key part of the school week remains, albeit in a virtual setting.
Swanbourne House School is passionate about providing a progressive and individual learning experience – the school has been determined to keep that spirit and ambition in place during this period of crisis and uncertainty.
Swanbourne House is an independent day and boarding prep school for 3 – 13 years. The school is set in 55 acres of Buckinghamshire countryside just 20 minutes from Central Milton Keynes. Find out more at swanbourne.org.