An extraordinary end to the school year
Sarah Haslam, headmistress of Withington Girls’ School, reflects on a summer term like no other, during which the school community, while largely kept apart, has pulled together in ways that have
demonstrated agility, creativity and true Withington spirit
The closure of schools in March due to the Covid19 pandemic has meant that here at Withington we join schools across the UK in moving towards the end of an extraordinary academic year. Recent months have witnessed an acceptance of uncertainty and change as a new standard, while the use of technology and innovative thinking has enabled pupils and staff to retain a sense of normality and connection.
At the very start of the school closure our existing mobile learning approach, where every senior school pupil was already using their own mobile device in lessons, meant we were able to launch our remote learning platform, Virtual WGS, immediately.
A survey of both junior and senior school pupils shows that they have adapted well to this new way of engaging with their education. They are missing their ‘normal’ school life, but it is reassuring for us as educators to know that remote learning is working and that the pace and standard of education is sustained, despite the challenging circumstances.
Virtual WGS, however, goes beyond maintaining the academic aspects of school life. Just as when school is fully open, we have three assemblies a week, weekly form time and a host of pastoral input and activities.
We have kept in contact with our Year 13s and Year 11s, who would normally be in the midst of public exams, offering them relevant university or A-Level bridging courses and continued pastoral support. We ran a virtual UCAS Day for our Year 12s and, for the first time in the school’s history, the summer exams’ week was conducted online.
Our school community may be physically separated, but we are using communication and technology to ensure that pupils and staff, and even former members of our community, with phone calls to those who live alone, continue to feel part of the Withington family.
An initiative at the start of the summer term – twice weekly Radio WGS podcasts – offers junior and senior versions of a diverse and entertaining compilation of interviews, quizzes, reviews, stories and music, with contributions from pupils, staff and alumnae.
Another important event that will not run in the usual way is citizenship day – a wholeschool event focused on giving back to our community, with pupils usually undertaking a sponsored walk to raise funds for local charities, contributing to local projects and hosting senior citizens at an end of year performance and tea party.
This year we will celebrate community volunteering and fundraising efforts during lockdown and encourage others to follow these examples over the months ahead.
There is so much more that would normally make up the summer term at Withington: residential trips for Years 5 and 6, Duke of Edinburgh
Award expeditions, sports day, exhibitions of GCSE and A-Level art, house plays and the junior end of year production. Our challenge has been to find alternative ‘virtual ‘ways to mark these milestones while embracing the creativity and development of new skills prompted by this exceptional period of time.
Our WGS Journal2020 project seeks to gather individual insights from across our community, in any creative form, to create a lasting legacy of this time of lockdown for future generations.
We are all looking forward immensely to that point in time when we can all return to school and be fully reunited.
ABOVE: WGS headmistress Sarah Haslam, staff and pupils, have found virtual ways to mark school milestones