An ex­tra­or­di­nary end to the school year

Cheshire Life - - Cheshire Voice -

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

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