Through an Enforced Need to Adapt Comes a Forward-Thinking Education Fit For the World Our Children Will Be a Part Of
4 May 2021
A great deal of exciting, forward thinking and broad minded planning has been going on in schools. It is abundantly clear that the pandemic has thrown all the educational jigsaw pieces up in the air and they are coming down to land in a very different configuration. New ideas on curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and how to support wellbeing have encouraged leaders to create bold new visions of the destination ahead.
Our vision centers on planned assessment and learning through a skills-based education, primarily in Year 7 and 8 as a replacement for the linear approach of Common Entrance. However, as we have reflected on the opportunities ahead we have also reflected on the extraordinary development of skills in our pupils over the last twelve months.
Last week I was leading a tour and visited a Year 3 classroom. Students in that class were all typing ideas and recording their thoughts on their chromebooks which they were then casting on to the screen in front of them for each other to see. A year ago they would have been discussing IT as part of an ICT lesson in a designated classroom with desktop computers; the needs of the pandemic and the online learning they were part of has transformed both their skills and their understanding of the potential of computers to support their learning.
Digital creativity has taken off across the school. As well as learning how to participate in a full curriculum online, students have learnt to present to others and lead assemblies, record thoughts, interact with staff in break-out rooms online and create small drama pieces that can be used as part of a bigger montage by staff in a given subject. Last summer my Head of English managed to film Macbeth with year 8 in small segments, whilst sticking closely to rules on bubbles and social distancing. Staff and students have become more resourceful, adaptable and resilient in finding solutions to learning challenges when faced with a variety of constraints.
However, it is in other areas that we have seen the development of skills over the last year. Earlier this academic year, we had to discuss how we might replicate the Christmas Fair and allow students to both create stalls and items, as well as enjoy the opportunity to have the experience of buying and selling with their friends. The students came up with the concept of a socially distanced fair, where all the stalls were created in the days before the fair and separate year group windows were created to allow each child a certain amount of time exploring the stalls and collecting all the fun paraphernalia that makes it such a great Christmas event. There were tag teams running stalls wearing masks and the students designed special tokens to change for money. Students learned how to work together, problem solve and be inclusive in their approach to school life.
As year groups have had to work together as separate bubbles we have explored new ways that they can be challenged. Our Year 8s have been set the task of taking a small sum of money, using it creatively to build or make something to sell and then presenting this to parents when they can come into school later this term as part of an auction to raise money for charity. Working in small groups they are using skills of creativity, collaboration and independence to show they can be entrepreneurial and resourceful. The opportunity to develop these skills has partly arisen from changes in Year 8 assessment, but also through a need to adapt and create new learning experiences for the students.
One of the most heartening things about being at a school with extensive grounds has been the ability both to find ever more areas for the children to play and also to vary these play areas so the students can use their imagination and creativity in that play. This last year has taught us all about the value of outdoor learning and how we can take learning out of the classroom so successfully. We have a very well developed Forest School site at the OPS and this has been a great resource over the last year. However, it was the outdoor prize giving, the music events, the walks, the assemblies outside and all the ways in which staff have used the grounds as a broader canvas upon which to build the confidence and wellbeing of students that has taught me about the possibilities for the future.
As we start to plan a future education that is forward-thinking and fit for the world our children will be part of, it is encouraging to reflect on just how far they have already come in the last year. The need to adapt to circumstances, solve problems, be resourceful, creative and work together in new ways has developed the confidence and resilience of all our children. Rather than education going backwards in the last year there is a sense that, where the opportunity has arisen, learning has taken a great leap forwards. The chance to build on this is something we are all looking forward to.