School’s out for summer – but not quite in the way that many students may have fantasised about before. Being remote from teachers and classmates is a greater challenge than any pupil could have imagined. But Pangbourne College are finding the positive.
We interviewed David Metcalfe, Housemaster at Pangbourne College, to discover how the school has pivoted its approach and solved new problems creatively.
How are you addressing the issues of remote learning?
We have been fortunate in that we’ve been driving towards online learning and digital resources for some time already, so the transition hasn’t been quite as abrupt as it could be.
Our biggest challenges have been around internet connectivity and differing time zones for some of our international students. We’ve had to adapt our schedules and shorten lesson times to make sure all students have time to complete their work and access the support they need.
You can do so much with so little these days – there are so many free services online that we use on a day to day basis. As a “Google School”, we rely heavily on G Suite applications which helps us maintain a regular schedule as much as possible.
Has there been a significant business impact on the college?
There are, of course, lots of overheads associated with running the College as a business. We also realise that many of our families are financially impacted by the current pandemic, and that online learning (no matter how good) is not the same as being at school. We lowered our fees for this term for all parents, and that has had an impact. Some staff have, unfortunately, been furloughed, but we are confident that we will be in a positive financial position when restrictions lift. Being proactive about our finances will hopefully put us in good stead for the future.
What are your top tips?
For us, we’ve learned a few key things in the last few weeks:
- Face-to-face contact on video calls are crucial. Even if it’s only for a few minutes a day between tutors and students, it’s critical to maintain this interaction as much as possible.
- Don’t rely entirely on emails to communicate. Things can get lost and misconstrued – a conversation on a video call is much more effective.
- Keep all written communications clear and concise so there is no room for misinterpretation.
- Use new technologies. We’re using things like Kahoot, Quizlet, EDpuzzle and MyMaths in our lesson plans to keep things fun and interesting. Lots of companies have made their products free for education for the next few months so don’t be afraid to try new things.
- Do something fun. Virtual quizzes, virtual talent competitions, exercise challenges… whatever students are passionate about, find a way to bring it back into their daily lives.
Ultimately, I think the key to making all of this work is routine. Keeping busy, finding new things to do and sticking to a regular daily schedule can help staff and students cope emotionally and physically in these strange and uncertain times.
Finally, are you predicting any further difficulties as we transition out of lockdown?
It’s going to be challenging to maintain the same level of education for all pupils if we potentially start to see some returning this year. It’s quite likely that overseas students won’t be back before September, so we’re working on ensuring there’s no disruption or disadvantage to them.
There are some lessons to take forward with us too. We’ve learned so much from trialling the new virtual model that in fact it will help us be more creative in delivering homework and lesson plans for students in the future.