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School’s Smooth Transition to Distance Learning

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The last week and a half of the Spring Term at Bolton School has certainly been one for the history books. As a result of the rapid global spread of Covid-19, schools across the nation closed, except for key workers’ children and the vulnerable, and teaching went remote. Some schools adapted better than others and whilst not everything went flawlessly at Bolton School, there was much success as Foundation teaching staff worked tirelessly showing imagination and creativity and pupils acted maturely and diligently to make things work.  

Infants were set a number of tasks to complete at home and particularly enjoyed story-time with Mrs Mees and Mrs Taylor. Junior and Senior School pupils, using their iPads and apps, undertook a wide variety of tasks across subject areas and produced quality work as normal timetables continued. There were many novel approaches to online learning, including Patterdale Hall setting daily outdoor learning challenges, stay-at-home DofE activities and sports departments challenging pupils with ‘keepie uppie’ competitions and keep fit sessions. The Junior Boys' School started producing visors for the NHS through their 3-d printer and Kidzone, the School's Holiday Club, continued to host children of key workers through the Easter break. Mr Britton, Headmaster of the Boys’ Division, even delivered his end of Term celebratory assembly remotely from the Great Hall (you can watch it here).

As the Term drew to a close, Heads from across the Foundation reflected on the transition to remote learning. 

Mrs Laverick, Head of the Junior Girls' School, said: "Directed learning has worked really well at Hesketh House, with a huge variety of tasks and activities being created by the teachers and some excellent work produced by the girls. Pupils received a daily email, reminding them of their timetable and what to do in each lesson…. and then they were up and running! Much of the work was completed and uploaded on to Seesaw, where it was marked electronically and returned with feedback. Zoom was also used so that teachers can have some ‘face-to-face’ contact with their classes, and this went down particularly well. The girls also have a variety of e-learning platforms to provide extension work if needed. The fact that all the children have an iPad has been invaluable in making sure they stay in touch and can access the work. Equally important is the regular contact with their teachers, who are available to them all day. It has been a steep learning curve for us all, but I have been very impressed with everyone’s effort – pupils and staff alike!”

Mrs Faulkner, Head of Junior Boys’ School, was equally pleased with how things had gone: “At the Boys' Junior School, we have been able to work swiftly to implement a remote learning programme which supports the boys' ongoing learning whilst they are away from the classroom. This has mostly involved widening the use of apps and techniques we have used in-school for some time as part of our ongoing digital learning programme, and so the boys' familiarity with such things will certainly have eased the pressure on parents. Our Spring Term usually ends with a House Day and celebratory assembly, both of which we managed to successfully achieve remotely with lots of great contributions from the boys. Through the use of video conferencing we are working hard to maintain the positive relationships which are such an important aspect of school life, though we do very much look forward to having the boys back in School. Feedback from parents has been incredibly supportive and we can see that the interruption to the boys' learning has been minimised."

Ms Bradford-Keegan, Assistant Head (Curricular and Extra Curricular Achievement) in the Girls' Division, said: "Both our staff and pupils have managed the transition to Home Directed Learning with enthusiasm, commitment and success. The adaption has come in two forms: mastering technology that has been previously used to supplement in school teaching and, secondly, adapting teaching methods to suit the remote experience so that pupils' learning is maximised. As a result, the education that we are continuing to offer is of the highest standard not compensatory."

Miss Hincks, Headmistress of the Girls’ Division, said: “Thank you to every colleague at Bolton School including our Junior Schools, Infants’ and Nursery for keeping 100 key workers’ children happy and occupied, the majority at Beech House and Nursery, whilst offering home learning to 2,000 more. The programme of directed learning which we have adopted in every year group in Senior Girls means that girls are able to access lessons through video conferencing facilities or other apps, whether they are at home or, for key workers’ children, at School. Staff and girls have risen to the challenge amazingly and parents who are currently forced to stay home have had an insight into classroom life which many have appreciated. Since every girl has her own iPad, provided by the School, nobody is left out from the learning experience. I am so grateful to my colleagues for throwing everything into this and ensuring that the girls continue to make excellent progress despite the lock-down. Pastoral staff and members of the PE department are also touching base with the girls on a regular basis so that we can make sure that their spirits are good, too.

There has been a lot of uncertainty since the government’s announcements about self-isolation and the eventual closure of schools to the majority of pupils. Young people today are already seeing the erosion of certain freedoms which previous generations have taken for granted as a result of the lockdown. If contact with their teachers and peers via video conferencing helps alleviate the frustration and helplessness which the situation can engdender, then we are delighted that the ipads give us this facility in the current climate."

Deputy Head (Academic) in the Boys' Division, Mr Ford opined: "Being a 1:1 iPad school meant that we could make the transition to virtual schooling quickly and easily. Many of the tools used for virtual schooling were already established parts of our teaching and learning practice, and those that weren’t we invested lots of time in getting our staff ready to use them. Teachers have been impressed how engaged the boys have been with their virtual schooling and they have used the tools to continue their departmental planning meetings virtually. We have even been able to use the tools to continue assessment and testing so that all aspects of school life have continued as they would have done if the building had remained open."

At the end of the first week, Mr Britton, Headmaster of the Boys’ Division, said: “Thank you to parents, boys and colleagues who have made the virtual school work so well this week. Everyone has played their part to give the boys some structure at a very strange time for them all, keeping them connected with school and one another and making progress," whilst also reflecting: "For 110 years the Sergeant has brought boys to the Headmaster to be asked to be Captain and Vice Captains of School. Today I appointed the team for 2020/21 by Zoom!” 

Summing up the remote learning experience in his end of term newsletter, he told how: "For much of last week I was alone in the Boys’ Division Senior School, knowing that around the North West more than 90 colleagues and 920 boys were running more or less the normal school day of lessons remotely, using our iPads, email and some bespoke apps. If there was ever time to reap the rewards of being one of only a handful of Apple Distinguished Schools in the North West this was the time. I think parents and boys have welcomed the structure and rhythm provided by this approach and all noticed when it was the weekend, which is important in what are otherwise long days at home. Colleagues and boys have risen to the challenge.”

Many parents expressed through social media how hugely appreciative they were of the efforts that teaching staff went to:

“I have been so impressed with how smoothly it has all gone this week! Well done.”

“Thanks to you and the staff, it’s made working from home easier as my daughter is occupied in a constructive way, maintaining contact with her class, carrying on learning. Really impressed and grateful.”

“Thank you to all at Bolton School for keeping some rhythm, structure and normality for all pupils. Great directed learning.”  

"My son has enjoyed the virtual lessons, which have continued to challenge and stimulate him. The organisation has been fantastic and this is a testament to the work you and your staff have put in to preparing for this unfortunate situation. While he misses school and the personal interactions it brings, the virtual school has proven to be a worthy replacement."

“Thank you to all those involved in keeping the school going and for providing the daily routine. I can not describe the joy of hearing the laughter coming from my daughter’s room throughout the day."

“Thank you to you and all your staff for keeping some normality in our children’s lives during this surreal time. Having the structure of normal lessons has definitely helped with my daughters’ mental and physical well-being.”

“Bobbed home at lunch, there was much hilarity in my daughters A Level Maths class, such a tonic for all at a time when they cannot meet friends. Thanks for everything you and the other teachers are doing to maintain normality and support other key workers.”

“Feeling proud to have got through week one of distance learning with my three boys! We are all still speaking and smiling! So grateful to the school - brilliant leadership and management of this.”

“Thank you Sue Hincks and Philip Britton and all the Bolton school staff. Proud of our school. Stay safe.”

“It's a wrap! One full week complete - a huge thank you to Bolton School and Philip Britton for ensuring that our boys could still learn and develop themselves. Zoom has been a life saver along with many WhatsApp calls between friends.”

“As I write this our daughter is engaged with her subject teacher in her remote learning. What a week for everyone. A huge thank you Sue Hincks and Philip Britton for your leadership and to all the teachers for your hard work and professionalism this week. We are impressed!”

"Thank you for pulling together such an impressive last couple of weeks continuing our girls' education in such challenging circumstances. We really appreciate the hard work of all the staff to provide the stability our daughter needed; you've been amazing."

At the end of the first full week of remote learning, teachers were pleased with how it had worked out and just a little relieved to make it to the weekend. Social media reflections included:

“Definitely the most unusual week of my life. Virtual School has been up and running for five days now. Zoom and Showbie have been most effective and do you know what, the young creatives have risen to the challenge. Lots being done.”

“Well done to all the Lower School boys, who have engaged so well with remote learning in our first week! Your teachers really appreciate your hard work and enthusiasm. Big thank you to parents and carers for their support. Hope everyone enjoys a well-earned break this weekend!”

“At the end of the first week of remote teaching a huge congratulations to the Sixth Form who have superbly engaged and carried on their studies through Zoom and Showbie as well as other platforms.”

“Hearing very positive things in our daily PE zoom meetings with our students about how the girls are looking after themselves. Pupils in Y7, 8 & 9 are rising admirably to the challenge of keeping their activity diary up-to-date with some innovative ideas.”

“Well done to Levi for running his own bee keeping extra-curricular club activity from home today.”

“Six period day done, every class was fabulous. Feeling ever so slightly more upbeat about the whole situation. Even my 10 year old Mac has managed to Zoom!”

“Year 4 have been very busy with their home learning task this week. They have been writing instructions, finding out about evaporation as well as keeping up with their numeracy skills. Well done girls keep up the good work.”

“What a week! I've never worked so hard (that's from Mrs Super Conscientious). It's been exciting, innovative, challenging and occasionally frustrating. Brilliant support and camaraderie from all at Park Road Juniors.” 

“Having used Zoom to have a Form Meeting with 3B, it was lovely hearing so many varied highlights of their week: many writing their adventure story, some class discussions on Showbie, of course Joe Wicks' PE – the Body Coach -, even the daily calculations made the list.”

“Virtual Bolton School has had a tiring but successful first week. So proud of the pupils who have been ready and engaged for lessons. I've been glad to help staff and pupils work this out! But I am very ready for this weekend!”


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