Co-curricular Lockdown Learning

30 June 2020

Gemma Van Praagh, Deputy Head Co-curricular, reflects on the remote learning experience.

As we approach the end of an academic year that has been like no other, we talked to Ms Van Praagh about the challenges of delivering a co-curricular experience to Forest pupils while the school has been closed.

Q: What would you say have been the successes of our remote co-curricular provision?

Our crucial success within co-curricular has been our co-curriculum Sharepoint site which has given our pupils a fully interactive and continuously updated resource. Our pupils can access this site via the Dashboard, and it is so child-friendly; it has timers on things ticking down until an online event, or when a piece of content goes live, there is news down the side of the screen and multiple points across the site for them to submit ideas and work. We designed it in a way that is totally in tune with what children expect when they are accessing something online.

The success of this site and our children’s engagement with it means it will continue to be part of the provision we offer for our children when we fully return to school. We will look to build on its success as it will form the backbone to the five strands of our co-curricular provision; creativity, culture, careers, community and challenge.

Q: What have the main challenges been?

Some of the main challenges have come from some of the subjects that sit within the Co-curricular Department. So many of our subjects are practical and physical so finding ways to replicate that when pupils are learning remotely has required everyone to think very differently. In some areas, such as Drama GCSE and A-Level exams, for example, we are waiting on guidance from exam boards, and solutions can only be put in place once we know more.

My main challenge has been to ensure that we honour our duty of care to our pupils and that they are getting the best possible provision despite the circumstances. We have had to dig deep to unearth new learning opportunities, creative teaching approaches and innovative solutions to what, back in March, felt like an insurmountable feat!

Q: Have there been any positive outcomes of having to work in this way?

By having to find new ways to teach, we have discovered new initiatives we want to keep in place. We have recently started a series of Forest Educational Talks, and the feedback has been so good we are looking for those to continue. We want to keep reaching out to people – in line with our five strands – Creativity, Culture, Community, Careers and Challenge – as these five-minute talks give children access to areas and ideas they may not have previously thought about. To me, this remains a compelling option whatever our physical circumstances.

Our Music Department has introduced new methods of teaching too and is now using software called Flipgrid, which allows a lot more peer-to-peer and self-evaluation and more self-management of their outcomes. For Drama we have sought out subscriptions to online digital theatre as they have a syllabus requirement to have access to live theatre and, moving forward, this will only strengthen our teaching of live theatre by continuing to use that. Similarly, the PE Department has been doing daily remote sessions which means that any child of any ability of any age group can access PE regularly which is an exciting addition to the what was already an extensive programme.

The Musical Showcase Gala we have planned for the last week of term is another positive example of using technology to recapture some of that buzz. The children have worked hard on it; there will be live winners, an audience vote (again using our co-curricular site) and an external adjudicator just as we would for a live event in the building.

Q: If you had your time again, what would you have done differently?

I think the thing that I’ve been most disappointed in, and it is something that we are going to continue plugging away at, is our ability to share our co-curricular resources with our local partners. We have made some of the resources available to the broader community via links on the website. Still, there is more work to do here to make the experience as engaging as our internal co-curricular Sharepoint site.

Here at Forest, we have the resources to create these wonderful opportunities for our children, but it is very labour intensive to produce them. Still, now it exists I want to find a way of it becoming an opportunity for outreach and partnerships beyond our school. Recent studies state that only 7% of children across the country have had up to four hours of learning per day and only 12% of children have had access of up to two hours of education per day. If we can help and support our colleagues in other settings, we should. The feedback we have had from our pupils has been so positive, and their input has been creative and beautiful, so I would very much like to offer our resources to our wider community.

Q: What has been the response to Forest’s remote co-curriculum?

I think the response to our remote co-curricular provision has reaffirmed that our pupils and our parents do buy into our ethos as an all-round school. It is what sets us apart and, although we, unfortunately, cannot replicate the delivery of the co-curriculum in the same way as teachers can replicate live lessons, we have given the children enough resources for them to continue to engage and explore and develop. We have had more than 24,000 visits to the remote co-curricular site with 1250 unique viewers which equate to all of the senior school pupils and some of the staff. We had 639 children login for the first Forest in Action sessions (out of around 800 senior school pupils) and 539 for the second session so although there was some drop off it was not as much as we expected. Overall, 80% of pupils engaged and participated in it, so we are rightly proud of that achievement and of course their contribution.