Leading any school means one is always cognisant of the responsibility to shape an environment which delivers the best possible outcome for the young people it serves. The challenges, emotional and practical, presented by the pandemic have only heightened my personal feelings of responsibility – seeking to ensure the longer term effects on education are minimized, as much as possible. Whilst the country may be on the verge of removing the final legislative restrictions, the impact on education has been multifaceted and the effects will be far longer lasting.
The response needs to be swift, focusing on critical areas and, in my view, there are two: one, an opportunity to build on, and, the other, a potential weakness to be shored up.
The opportunity presented by the pandemic is the enforced, rapid digital upskilling of the profession. The sudden shift to remote learning brought sharp focus to approaches, apps and technologies hitherto laying dormant in common rooms around the land. Pedagogy has played catch up, with the move to online learning en masse creating expertise before it could be envisaged. At Elmhurst School for Boys, even prior to the first lockdown, we had been building our digital skills and adopting new ways of working. Now though, we have even greater determination to drive digital literacy amongst our learners: enabling this through both curriculum and, since this academic year, through physical access to devices through a roll out of chomebooks for our key stage two pupils. With teachers more ready than ever to support pupils and parents with online learning and education apps increasingly providing opportunities for personalised learning, this is perhaps one of the few upsides to the turbulent times we have had.
On the other hand, character, and the development of it, is the area that is commanding my attention in response to the more damaging effects of successive lockdown measures. Earlier this week, I spent time collaborating with other heads in Bellevue to put forward suggestions that will support the development of character in the curriculum, co-curricular and beyond. It seems I am far from alone in recognising the need to build robust, resilient learners in preparation for the ever-changing global landscape. Educational research and literature in the field is plentiful and whilst the impact of character education is hard to measure, it is unsurprising that as educators we are seeking to arm our pupils with tools that will enable them to cope and even thrive in periods of challenge.
With the Spring Term half term upon us, after a leadership change, Elmhurst School for Boys’ new buds are starting to emerge. Kindness, Respect, Bravery, Curiosity and Determination are the words we will focus on in our behaviour. Strategic partnerships with parents are being explored and gaining traction, inspiring spaces are being developed and best for boys sits firmly at the heart of all that we do. Our school’s character is unwavering and this renewed focus on development and clear direction leaves us well placed for an even more successful second half of the year.