When the Covid-19 pandemic first started in the UK, schools certainly had to think and act quickly. Their students were in the middle of the school year and so their needed to be a seamless transition during this interruption to normality, and one that meant they will be able to hit the ground running again with no academic gaps when they return.
No matter where everyone is in lockdown; in the UK, back in their home country at home, in quarantine or in a host family in the UK, one thing is accessible to them all – the all powerful world wide web.
And so saw the emergence of the virtual classroom, otherwise referred to as remote teaching, online learning, e-teaching or learning. This is not a new way of teaching; The Open University has been offering what it calls ‘Flexible Distance Learning’ since 1969 with no campus – just distance and online learning and is now the UK’s largest university with over 174,000 students. However for a UK school to become the provider of an online programme within two or three weeks from a standstill is some hard task.
As well as keeping in touch with our students during lockdown, at Bright World we have also been talking to our partner schools over the past few weeks. We have been really impressed with their ‘can-do’ approach to this situation. We are hearing daily news about students really engaging with the new challenges that have been thrust upon them.
MPW (Mander Portman Woodward), our partners in London, Cambridge and Birmingham, have launched their own online classroom and the college day is run as if the students are actually there. The MPW Virtual Learning Environment for e-learning uses MS Teams platform to deliver e-teaching in exactly the same class groups with the same teachers as when students are in college – the only difference is they are online and back in their own country or at their KSS residence in lockdown.
MPW’s strong pastoral care provision continues online as well including 1:1 meetings with Personal Tutors and Directors of Study, university counselling and all elements of the MPW student experience. The Bright World Guardianship experience, although different in that no face to face in person meetings are held, has remained in place with our Local Coordinators engaging regularly with their students and our Head Office team providing details of our Keeping in Touch initiative.
King Edward's Witley, Surrey are also well underway with their Distance Learning Programme. Their approach is different from MPW as they are offering a system of on-demand lessons, with tasks to be completed and uploaded.
#KESWClassroom is set up so that pupils have the opportunity for collaboration with their peers in small groups and in whole class settings. All pupils have a range of ways of contacting their House Parents and teachers, through daily roll calls, individual tutorials, drop-ins and clinics.
Under the somewhat understated banner of #KESW co-curriculum lies an incredible range of extra-curricular activities, taking part both in term time and during the half term and summer holiday. The list is endless but as an example, part of the creativity and skills department, students have the opportunity of being part of an original theatrical performance remotely.
Online sports and fitness sessions are also available as well as 'Service and Community' where students can take part in a volunteer programme in which pupils can safely and remotely volunteer for various projects.
Bishopstrow College traditionally offers courses preparing international students for onward progression to boarding schools in the UK and other English-speaking markets. Under lockdown, things are all now running through Bishopstrow Online.
Like the College’s traditional programmes, Bishopstrow Online is aimed at international students who wish to improve their English, whilst following a traditional programme of academic subjects. Bishopstrow Online delivers a fully interactive Bishopstrow education to students around the world.
The Programme covers academic, cultural, social and boarding preparation, as well as wellbeing and fitness. Face-to-face lessons are delivered in live, interactive classrooms by Bishopstrow’s professionally qualified teachers. Students are able to interact with their teacher in the video classroom or message their teacher with particular questions, comments or contributions.
It is business as usual for Bright World School Placements Department where we are still counselling overseas parents on gaining places at UK schools for September 2020 and beyond. This part of our organisation is an education agency and we always operate online anyway. We are still seeing a healthy flow of parents enquiring and we are liaising daily with our partner schools.
Schools are however adapting, in that face to face interviews are being replaced by skype meetings and we are now even seeing in person school visits being temporarily replaced with virtual open days and school tours.
Our focus now as guardians has to be helping schools to facilitate a transition back to normal life. We are talking to our partner schools right now to see if we can help them with hosting students for a 14 day period before they return to their boarding house and what the school breaks are going to look like in terms of exeat weekends and half term holidays. As guardians we want to be here to help get everything back to the new normal, whatever that is going to be.
We will be keeping you updated with progress on this over the coming weeks and months.
Betty Dagistan talks about MPW's new online classroom and how students are teachers are coping with the "new normal."
Mark Jeynes takes us through plans for the year ahead at Padworth reporting on the College's new online teaching provisions.