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Malvern St James, an all-girls day and boarding school in Malvern, Worcestershire, has completed an audit of students’ reaction to the new world of online teaching and learning. The School moved to lessons via Microsoft Teams as soon as school closures were announced in March and has used the Easter break to find out what improvements could be made for the start of the Summer Term.

Some pupils – and teachers – have taken to online learning like ducks to water. One pupil commented, “it’s much more relaxed than normal and in some ways less stressful.” Perhaps not surprisingly amongst the teenagers polled, not having to wake up so early was cited as a plus, as was being able to wear comfy clothes. On a more serious note, other positives about schooling from home include the ability to work at their own pace, being able to access recorded lessons again for revision, and less distractions than being at school. A shorter school day was also a plus (in real life, the school day is from 8.30am to 6pm, including Prep time). Overall students at the all-girls school were positive about being able to learn from home.

Of course, there are some things that are harder to replicate in the virtual classroom. Students are missing being able to do practicals in labs for Sciences (though teachers are working on solutions to this), and technology has been hard to grapple with, even for the digital native generation. WiFi glitches, printer issues and multiple people speaking at the same time on video conferencing: things that most WFH adults will relate to.

Geography, Biology, PE and English in particular have received the thumbs-up with pupils saying that they can hold discussions on topics and follow presentations and activities just as well as in a classroom. Some pupils even claim it is better because they don’t feel self-conscious about speaking. Music and Drama have also received praise, with pupils appreciating a break from their screens and a creative outlet. Cooking in Food and Nutrition was popular for the same reason. In response to the clear need to do something away from academics, Headmistress Mrs Olivera Raraty has introduced ‘Lockdown Boredom Creativity’ which encourages student to do something completely different every day – find something extraordinary in the ordinary - and share it with the school community. After-school and lunch-time clubs will also resume next week with everything from yoga to debating and STEM on offer.

Students have come up with their own ‘to-do’ list of what will help them through the remainder of the lockdown. This includes creating a designated study space, being organised and ready for every lesson, turning up on time, having a planner for each day, and enjoying proper breaks. The Head of Pastoral Care operates a ‘wellbeing tracker’ where pupils log on to say how they’re feeling each week, and are offered the opportunity of help, advice or just a friendly chat about worries.

Teachers, too, have used the Easter holidays to hone their IT skills. They have been working through the survey’s findings, improving and refining the best way to present resources online, sharing ‘how to’s’ with each other and keeping each other buoyant about the term ahead.