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“Necessity is the Mother of Invention”

David Metcalfe, Housemaster at Pangbourne College looks at how schools have had to adapt and change to keep up with Covid times and how these initiatives will become the ‘new normal’ going forward.

With schools reopening this term, there have been many examples of ‘enforced’ initiatives that have gone on to make an incredibly positive impact across the country. It has been great to witness significant changes, many of which I hope will remain long after the pandemic has receded.

When lockdown was first imposed, schools moved to online teaching and six months later here we are: live streaming content, assemblies and house meetings, recording lessons for our international students and dropping in online teaching tasks. Students are familiar with using new platforms as if we have always taught this way and even if the worst should happen and they have to go home, we would continue their education like this without interruption.

Of course, academic progress is important, but as a Housemaster, I am only too aware that only a fraction of a student’s education happens in the classroom. Sadly, other activities have taken an equal hammering, with sports fixtures cancelled, choirs and orchestras disbanded and the creative arts downing tools for the time being. However, new ways to approach these areas of school life have emerged with surprising positivity. Students are playing a combination of two or three sports each week; house competitions take place regularly and mixed gender games sessions are underway. This has improved pupils’ experience on both the ‘participation’ and ‘seeking excellence’ fronts.

Communication with students and parents is absolutely essential and we have had to adapt accordingly.  Online parents’ meetings have stepped in to fill the void and funnily enough, I have never felt closer to the parents of my overseas boarders.

One of the major issues of limited face-to-face contact is that it can make capturing the thoughts and opinions of students tricky. However, this has been overcome through online forums and surveys which have allowed us to capture more data than ever before, thereby encouraging students to offer their ideas and suggestions leading to positive change.

Schools have coped remarkably well over this term and the initiative, industry and resilience shown by all has been very impressive. I often quote Esther Boserup, a Danish economist, who said that “necessity is the mother of invention”. The changes and adaptations seen have been necessary, but I believe that many have the potential to become part of our fabric and enhance what we offer to students and parents going forward.

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