09 Feb 2021

How the School Has Coped With COVID

Alex Hems, Head of St George's School for Girls

We were very fortunate from the outset to have, already in place, an excellent e-learning coordinator, whose vision, combined with his skill as a teacher, meant that he was able to give our staff the confidence and skills needed to weather the initial shock of the transition to on-line learning back in March 2020. I would never claim that we have got everything right at every turn, but we have consciously focused on continuously reviewing and developing our skills, as well as the hardware and software that we need in order to deliver Supported Home Learning to the best of our ability. I think that, while they desperately miss the face to face interaction which so enriches classroom teaching, many of my colleagues rightly feel a great sense of pride in their achievements in re-shaping their craft for the online environment.

It quickly became apparent to us that we needed to make changes to the shape of the school day, to make this way of working more sustainable for teachers and students, and so we added in some more breaks between lessons. The pastoral teams have been outstanding in maintaining contact with students and we have used regular wellbeing surveys with both pupils and staff throughout this period, to help us to understand how they are feeling and how best to help them.

Primary 5 reading groups take place over teamsFor me, a priority has been finding ways to ensure that people continue to feel connected with one another, and with the school, while they have been at home, and while we have not been able to host events in person on site. An unexpected plus has been the great success of on-line parents’ evenings, which teachers and families alike have found to be efficient and effective. We have also gone online with our Open Days and with the information events about Options, Looking Ahead to Secondary Education, and Sixth Form at St George’s. The online format has enabled many more families to be able to join us than might usually have been the case, and of course then to access recordings of these events, which is especially valuable for our overseas boarding community. Whilst embracing this development, I am keen that we do not forget how important face to face meetings are in strengthening the relationship between school and our families. To compensate for the enforced distance between us, I think we have become better at communicating with our parents and wider community. I hope they would agree, but we have done our best to be transparent, and to listen to feedback at every turn.

A pupil shows off her art work during Scottish week in the Primary SchoolWe have seen a great deal of creativity emerging from this situation. The online environment also enables us to deliver our co-curriculum; Debating, Literary Society, Combined Cadet Force, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Young Enterprise, Model United Nations and individual music lessons have all continued for example, and last term we enjoyed very witty student-produced short films about their experiences of lockdown in place of a School Play. I was delighted when the Head Girl told me that she wanted to run Student Council via Teams, and our House Captains have been full of excellent ideas that not only bring the community together, but also encourage everyone to have time away from their screens as much as possible. We have all been very conscious of course of the need to remain active and fit. In January, inspired by Doddie Aid, our PE department galvanized the school into a km challenge, with some friendly inter-year rivalry, and last summer our girls and families teamed up with their peers at Merchiston to raise money for the Our Neighbours Community Project in Zimbabwe by walking, running, riding, cycling etc all the way to Bulawayo.

A Sixth Form pupil addresses the haggis during the virtual burns supperIt is so important not to let the events that mark the passing of the school year slip away completely. Virtual Speech Day in June was followed by an online Carol Service at Christmas, which beautifully captured the spirit of the readings, the music and the splendour of St Giles’ Cathedral. Most recently our S6 girls organised a rousing virtual Burns Supper, again with the boys of Merchiston. Most special of all, however, was the message of thanks to their teachers that they recorded just before the half term break, an unprompted expression of their respect and gratitude for the dedication and commitment of the school staff who have risen to the extraordinary demands of this situation with fortitude, resourcefulness and patience.

Mrs Alex Hems MA Oxon
Head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh


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