17 June 2020

Ealing Independent College during the Coronavirus: Chasing Normality

Ealing Independent College during the Coronavirus: Chasing Normality

'Status Quo' has never been a positive term in education. New teaching methods and ideas which emerge from extensive research studies often call upon educators to strive for improvements or seek out the extra 1% in order to maximise student performance.

The Coronavirus, and subsequent restrictions placed on schools and colleges by the government, has changed the 'game' entirely. Teachers have swiftly had to adapt to new technology, whilst finding alternative ways of imparting knowledge and providing feedback to work submitted by their students. At Ealing, we believe that we have coped with the transition better than most, largely due to the fact that we've tried to ensure that the high standards which we adhered to on a daily basis whilst the school was in normal service before the lockdown, have been targeted as our goal: we have relentlessly chased normality, because we know that it works.

As a smaller school, we have found it easier than most to form a cohesive approach amongst staff. It is testament to the teachers at the College that they have embraced a comprehensive method of online teaching so wholeheartedly. We have maintained the timetable, and every lesson is conducted through Google Meet as a video conference call, where all students engage remotely. This has enabled us to keep the rigour and routine of daily school life. Teachers have followed this primarily because they want to see our students progress as though they were in the classroom. Students and parents have appreciated the maintenance of a sense of purpose.

Indeed, purpose, and having something to work towards, has also been key to our approach. Easter mock examinations, a vital part of the College's programme of study for students in preparation for the exam period, were retained. We knew there would be challenges within being able to run a full exam session remotely, but that fundamental to the entire process would be ensuring integrity characterised it. Some students rightly had concerns that cheating could take place, and we knew that we had to trust students to a certain degree. They all signed agreements that they would adhere to our set of rules, worked incredibly hard to do their best, and, most importantly, participated fairly. Attendance, at 98.3%, was actually better than some previous exam sessions we have held at the College. Results were analysed as normal and prizes were given to those students who excelled in a special remote rewards assembly. Where a student performed significantly above expectations, they were given the opportunity to prove their progress in a Viva interview.

This practice was shared with our partner schools in the Bellevue Education group, and the College has benefited from being part of regular leadership meetings with members of senior leadership teams of other schools within the group. Comparing approaches and sharing ideas has enabled us to question and consider our methods, affirming the decisions which have been made to ensure the College is running as effectively as it possibly can. The unique standing of the College has meant that we have needed to consider what we have done very carefully. What is right for many schools is not necessarily right for us. We have tailored our approach in this period to, first and foremost, our students, our staff and our parents.

Where other schools may have waved goodbye to their GCSE or A Level course completing students as soon as the lockdown commenced, we have adapted our scheduling from the usual revision programme before the exams towards extension projects for all students. This has maintained the sense of purpose we have strived to preserve for our student body, whilst preparing them for their next stages of study, be that Sixth Form or University. To ensure that they can develop further, the College will also be introducing a subject specific 'bridging' course for year 11 students in June to help prepare them for the commencement of A Level study in September.

Strong communication has always been at the heart of what we do at the College. We have worked hard year on year to build strong, enduring relationships between staff, students and parents. The current lockdown has brought several challenges to overcome in this respect, but we have found ways to keep the channels of dialogue open. Staff meetings have been efficient and effective, whilst an extensive Inset session sharpened our approaches. We've continued lesson drop-ins to ensure the standard of teaching remains high, whilst we have been able to successfully induct a key new member of staff. Pastorally, we've been able to maintain our availability for students, with staff readily accepting questions from students, whether academic or otherwise in nature. Being in uncharted territory has also increased willingness to consider our approach, and student and parent voice has been important within this. We have taken on board suggestions from both groups, making timetable alterations to allow for rest breaks in order to combat 'screen weariness', or deploying the downloading of an app which streamlined our collation of exam papers during the mocks.

The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly altered approaches and, with it, expectations about what can realistically be achieved within a school setting. From our point of view, seeking out 'business as usual' or as close as possible to it, is the right approach. It has allowed staff to continue to do the teaching which they value most. It has ensured that parents have security in the knowledge that the method of their child's education may have been altered but that the quality of the education itself has not been interrupted. Most importantly, it has maintained the sense of direction and purpose within our student body which would have been all too easy to have lost in such unprecedented times.

- Allan Cairns, Vice Principal 

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