EDUCATION: Forres Sandle Manor School adapting to the challenges of Lockdown

2020 was a year like no other, with challenges that few, if any, foresaw and no sector has had to be more agile and more creative than education. We spoke to Jody Wells, Head of Forres Sandle Manor School about how dealing with the continuing presence of the virus, and the aftermath of it has added a new dimension to school life and how they, and their pupils and staff are meeting the challenge.

  1. From the very first time you heard the word Corona Virus to now, how has your daily routine changed?

My daily routine has changed enormously since we first heard of Coronavirus. Perhaps the most notable aspect being the number of times that the goal posts have moved since the end of January this time last year. Since the closure of schools on 20 March 2020, followed by a National Lockdown three days later, the staggered reopening of schools, a full reopening of schools in September and a boarding house in self-isolation during the latest lockdown, I believe we have had nine different versions of FSM. Each version brings slightly different challenges and variations to the day-to-day role, not only for me but all those within the FSM community. Daily, rather than weekly, staff meetings have been introduced to ensure that, with children and staff off site, we are keeping track of everyone’s wellbeing as well as our educational provision and the children’s progress. We have also dedicated a huge amount of time and effort to exploring and ensuring that children maintain vital opportunities to interact, socialise and generally break up their usual day. We know how important these opportunities are to wellbeing. It can be too easy to take for granted the built-in range of activities in a normal school day which include conversing with friends, discussion in class, teamwork, exercise, different snacks and meals, clubs, and a regular change of scenery as children move between lessons. Much of this variety has been lost and having to manufacture such instances seems strange.

On a personal level, one of the greatest changes has been the loss of regular face-to-face meetings with parents and tours of the school being replaced with zoom meetings and virtual tours. I greatly miss the informal conversations that take place with our wonderful parent body, whether they are my Monday morning coffee mornings, pitchside at fixtures, or those more spontaneous chats that take place casually throughout the day when parents drop off forgotten Games socks or linger in the car park awaiting pick up.

Never before have I given so much thought to the cleaning of my school.

As the latest lockdown continues, staff presence on site is reduced and expectations increase on our efforts to provide absolutely the best remote education to a class of children who might be learning in three separate locations, whether that be home or onsite within our own day pupil or boarding bubbles. I have found myself in the classroom far more than I have been used to in the past five years. Whilst trying to maintain the running of an excellent school at the same time as supervising the children and also trying to resist the temptation of joining in a particularly vociferous music lesson or exciting looking science experiment involving cars, has been challenging at times. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting back into the classroom, spending time with our children and seeing the fruits of all the hard work that goes into this.

  1. If you could nominate someone within your organisation for a superhero award, who would that be and why?

I do not believe it is possible to single out any one individual in my organisation or probably many other schools or areas of work for a superhero award. The circumstances, experiences, pressures and feelings of each and every pupil, parent and staff member will be vastly different and so too the challenges they have had to overcome. From an educational point of view, teaching and learning in what remains both a new and relatively alien form for the majority of us has been a huge challenge for many, yet our staff and pupils have been phenomenal. The prolonged absence from friends in the social commerce of a school and life generally, alongside the pressures of trying to support children’s learning whilst having to juggle the many logistical challenges of family life impact us all, yet as a community the constant acts of kindness, words of gratitude and praise alongside a desire to support one another at every turn have seen us grow stronger as a community.

Every member of the team has gone above and beyond and for the most part done it with a smile on their face. I have been impressed by the many acts of  kindness and thought our community has shown,  not only for those around them but also for those less fortunate than themselves. I am also incredibly proud of the way the teaching profession has dealt with the many hurdles put before them but I’m even prouder of the way everyone in the FSM family has pulled together through this pandemic.

  1. There are many well publicised disadvantages of living with Covid 19 in our midst, among the negatives are there any positives?

Whilst there are undoubtedly many negatives to the current situation, dwelling on them will be of  little benefit and I have always been a firm believer that there are opportunities in every situation be they bad or good. Whilst I would never choose to live through the situation we have, there have been countless positives at all levels be they international, national or local.

At FSM, the manner with which every single stakeholder in our fantastic school has adapted time and time again to the many challenges, changes and demands often with little notice has been  little short of remarkable. Staff have adapted their teaching methods and I know that a more blended approach to teaching will be retained within many more schools than just ours. As our children have moved through the past twelve months they have gained so many skills. They’re learning self-discipline, working with technology much more than many of them have before, they are solving problems, both for themselves, and their peers (and with the technology for their headmaster father too!). Our children are learning to adapt, proving themselves to be resilient, collaborative and tenacious. Yes they are having to be, but these are skills that will serve them well not just at their senior schools but in a future that is yet to be known.

  1. What book would you give to all your pupils if you could?

Ordinarily this wouldn’t necessarily be my choice and if twitter and the various online assemblies are to be believed, my choice is probably rather cliché but right now, amidst the current challenges I think Charlie Mackesy’s, ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,’ has a little something for everyone at almost any given moment. Almost every page delivers the powerfully positive messages that have, over the years,  been the basis for many of my assemblies or the pastoral crutch I offered colleagues or pupils in my previous role as Deputy Head Pastoral. Yet Charlie Mackesy’s illustrations deliver these messages in a stunningly simple fashion that has resonated with every single generation within my own family and everyone I know who has it. Besides, whilst I might not stretch to Mole’s excesses, we all know the power of cake!

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Author: Minerva Studio