On Monday March 23, schools in Scotland began delivering offsite education for their pupils. For Robert Gordon’s College, adapting to these changes has brought adjustment by families and staff for home learning, as well as the social and emotional changes for the health and wellbeing of children.
For Head of Junior School, Sarah Webb, and Head of Senior School, Mike Elder, preparations started ahead of the government announcing the closures.
Sarah explained: “In February our staff began preparing teaching and learning material in the event of a lockdown. Having reviewed what was happening in the Far East, we knew that we needed a plan in place to support distance learning.
“By the end of the month, each year group had created an interdisciplinary task for children to complete at home. Our initial plan was that this would be used at the start of any school closure to allow us some time to prepare our next block of learning.”
And once virtual learning started, it was time to watch the plans unfold.
Mike explained: “Initially – for the two weeks before the Easter holiday – we adopted what I would call a ‘scheduled’ approach.
“The teachers set up tasks for each lesson and pupils worked through them, using the existing school timetable to provide some structure without being required to follow it rigorously, and with some live teaching sessions taking place.
“Our reasons for taking this approach included advice from schools around the world who already had experience of offsite education and awareness of the challenging practicalities involved in delivering lessons from home.”
For Sarah, the Junior School had such wide-ranging educational needs and delivery methods to figure out – Nursery pupils learn very differently from Primary seven pupils about to transition to Secondary School.
“As we approached the inevitable, a key consideration was to ensure all our systems were safe, secure and appropriate for our children. From Nursery to P3 we made a conscious decision to extend the use of our effective system of sharing learning in the Nursery using Online Learning Journals.
“This has been successfully used by parents and staff for over two years prior to lockdown so it was a familiar platform to extend.”
The use of iPads has been adopted within the Junior and Senior schools for some time as part of the day-to-day learning. This was extended to enable teachers to utilise these devices with further apps and tools including Google Meet, which enables teachers and pupils to connect daily.
Throughout the lockdown, staff have been receiving feedback from pupils and parents, which has helped them develop their education.
In the Junior School, staff have been looking at ways to continue specialist teaching – such as Drama, PE and Science – without being able to have practical lessons with school equipment.
But Mike and Sarah are aware that it has not been the easiest of times for anyone in the school community.
Mike said: “The challenges of providing effective offsite education continue to be a live issue as far as we are concerned – not least because we are all still grappling with the emotional, social and psychological aspects of this situation.
“Everything seems to take longer online, and it has definitely become more complicated for staff to deliver and complete their usual school activities, while pupils and parents have also been adjusting to new routines and different ways of doing things.
“On top of that, we have had to respond to the news that the SQA exams have been cancelled for this year and that coursework that would ordinarily have been sent to the SQA is not being formally assessed.
“As well as being very disappointing for pupils, their parents and teachers, this situation has required the SQA to provide instructions and training for teachers and school management teams across the country in support of new certification arrangements.”
He added: “It is hugely to the credit of our teachers, and the other staff who continue to support them so effectively, that a ‘new normal’ has been established at Robert Gordon’s College as far as virtual learning is concerned.”
Sarah said: “As I reflect on our journey over the last three months I am greatly impressed with what we are achieving.
“Although we are offsite and there are differences in delivery we want there to be many similarities to life before lockdown, as this is what gives children, parents and staff comfort and reassurance.
“Working our way through all the challenges this situation has presented us with, we are now progressing the plans for a return to school programme.
“Our key priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community and we are all looking forward to the day that we can celebrate being back in our school again.”