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How to future-proof your kids

You don't need us to tell you it's been a challenging 18 months for everyone, but no more so than for schools. We asked Kathryn Gorman, Head of Abbot’s Hill School what she's learnt and how the school is preparing pupils for the new normal.

If anyone had told us two years ago that schools would be be closing their doors, parents having to juggle careers with homeschooling, and screentime taking over from face-to-face learning, we’d never have believed it. But what have the education experts learnt and how can we use that to help our children adapt to the new normal? Here’s what Kathryn Gorman, Head of Abbot’s Hill School, has to say:

Kathryn Gorman

Take time to digest

I became Head at Abbot’s Hill in January 2020. We had a full ISI inspection on my sixth day, then the global pandemic hit, which made that feel like a walk in the park! By the time pupils returned in the summer term we had created a digital school from scratch. We were determined to ‘open the door’ and quickly had to pivot – that involved introducing new tech systems and apps, loaning devices (as few families had enough for devices for every child), and making significant changes to the timetable. We learnt so much in a very short time and are still digesting it now – that counts for everyone, from staff to children and parents. We’re all still adapting now, so be sure to give yourself and your children time and patience as we continue to navigate these changes.

Communication is key

The strain on working parents was immense so we built a new website to give them just one centralised place to find all the information they needed. Rather than sending out myriad letters, to keep communications as clear as possible, we introduced apps like Seesaw for our early years (in addition to Tapestry). The more that parents engaged with these resources the more connected they felt to the school and their child’s welfare and progress. The landscape changed for all of us almost overnight, so encouraging parents to communicate effectively with the school and their children has been absolutely key.

woman on phone

Be part of the community

During lockdown we tried to retain as much normality in an abnormal situation and maintain our strong sense of community as much as possible. We continued with assemblies, one-to-one learning support and tutor time online. We also offered clubs and activities online wherever we could. It was hard for parents who weren’t able to physically come onto the school site, so we ran social events and talks for them, while our parents’ association hosted online wine tastings and workshops. We also signed up to Dr Kathy Weston’s Tooled Up programme and ran online parenting talks. It has been just as important for parents to feel supported and engaged in the school community as it has for the pupils during these times.

Allow for breathing space

One of the biggest lessons we learnt was that we didn’t have to do everything. I spoke to the heads of schools in the Far East, who were some weeks ahead of us in terms of lockdown. They explained that trying to maintain a full timetable in these times would lead to burnout for pupils and staff.

child reading

So, with wellbeing in mind, we created a softer end to the day for Prep pupils, by finishing lessons an hour earlier and using that time for small group drop-ins for story time or music, often run on a rota so staff could spend time with their own children (parents can forget that teachers are parents too!). And for Seniors we shaved off some time throughout the day, where it made sense, to let pupils go for a walk, play with a sibling or catch up on some reading in their own time. Giving children regular breaks, particularly from screentime learning, is something that parents really appreciated and that they can certainly learn from, too.

Hybrid learning is here to stay

Having quickly adapted to using tech for remote learning we’re harnessing that to make sure flexible working is always an option – for example if a teacher is well but has to self-isolate they can still remotely teach a classroom of children at school (with a supervisor), or a self-isolating pupil can join in with an in-school lesson from home. We’re also now running a mix of remote and face-to-face parents’ evenings, which should give working parents more flexibility. It will take time for other changes to ripple down and we’re not making any knee-jerk reactions, but it’s important for parents to be aware of and open to changes that will benefit the staff and pupils, and be prepared to support their children through them.

Girl on laptop

Don’t listen to the narrative of loss

At our school Prize Giving at the end of last term I told the girls not to listen to the narrative of the ‘lost generation’. The business world has been telling us for years that young people need attributes like flexibility and creativity, and this experience has certainly armed them with those, as well as resilience. I’m not saying it hasn’t been incredibly difficult and sometimes frightening for some, but resilience is borne out of failure (the Olympics has been a gift to all teachers and parents in terms of modelling those values!) and giving children somewhere safe as well as exciting, both at home and school, will open up young minds to all sorts of potential futures.

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