At St Mary’s School Hampstead, we continually challenge ourselves to provide the best possible all-round educational opportunities. Before a global pandemic was even a possibility, the School had implemented a significant annual investment programme to ensure we always deliver the most up-to-date and stimulating teaching environments.
As Headmistress, it has always been incredibly important to me that we incorporate the latest exciting and up-to-date technology to bring learning to life for our girls. For example, new iPads and laptops are accessible to every pupil in their classroom. MacBooks are also available in the Music Department for pupils to create digital music.
Last year, we were immensely proud to open our new Global Learning Centre. This unique space includes a cutting-edge Engineering and Robotics Lab, Virtual Reality Launch Pad, Art and Design Studio as well as a Green Room. We live in a technological world that is progressing at an incredible pace and I am delighted that our school has been at the forefront of these advances.
This forward-thinking investment in technology has proved vital to ensuring our pupils and staff were able to quickly adapt to lockdown learning. Thanks to the systems already in place, we were able to take immediate action as soon as closure looked likely, with advanced digital training to prepare teachers and pupils, as well as establishing expectations around responsible use of technology. It was crucial that we prioritised the wellbeing of our children during this extraordinary time and put in place a wealth of plans to support them.
We have always taught the girls at St Mary’s to be global thinkers and instil a sense of social awareness. In turn, we have to recognise that our school community has been incredibly fortunate to have ready access to computers, the internet and the support of hugely capable families.
As we made the transition from the physical to virtual worlds, the whole school was able to swiftly pivot to delivering and accessing excellent lessons at home. As a result of this rapid upskilling, teachers were able to deliver a full timetable of lessons from across the curriculum from the first day of distance learning. Within our curriculum, the focus on technology is equally balanced with an emphasis on creative and physical development. I was delighted that music, drama, art and sports continued to be an essential part of online school life.
Although no substitute for the classroom, the benefits for many pupils have been tangible and exceeded expectations. It has inspired their creativity, especially within their writing and problem-solving. Pastorally, the children from Pre-Nursery to Year 6 have been empowered to become increasingly independent and have developed their resilience.
Our children have increased their technological fluency, especially as they accessed lessons from all around the world and across different time zones. They became particularly adept at navigating between their Google Classrooms, popping in for a chat with their teachers during form times, participating in whole School events such as Assemblies or Hymn Practices, and keeping in touch with their peers and teachers effortlessly in a myriad of new ways.
Virtual classrooms have also allowed pupils to think beyond the traditional methods of producing work and test out different formats. Collaboration became ever-more important and children were able to work together on documents together at the same time, building on ideas as a team and realising their objectives in an innovative and interactive way. Feedback was transformed as teachers had more options available to them. Written marking remained, but was enhanced by voice notes and video messages.
For those children of keyworkers and the year groups that were able to return before the summer holidays, wonderful new friendships were formed when entering their bubbles. During playtimes, we have had to temporarily remove our extensive play equipment. However, this encouraged the children to develop their imaginations and create many fantastic games. We have been so proud to see the children strengthen their respect for others by following social distancing and recognise why this needs to be done. These multi-disciplinary skills and habits gained by our pupils apply to everyday life and will enrich the next stages of their education.
Far from technology replacing the skills of a teacher, this experience has highlighted how our talented teachers can enthusiastically embrace technologies to their advantage and deploy them in creative ways. The Leadership Team has already been reviewing the results of teaching via Google Classrooms to understand how we can harness the positives once school recommences. Our ambition is to retain and build on these skills as teachers. Digital learning offers us the opportunity to remain agile and work towards a blended approach, supporting us in areas such as homework, or when a teacher is away from school.
We are confident that our children will return as determined and motivated as before the crisis. Pupils will take more ownership of their learning and feel truly immersed in their exploration of new topics.
As we look forward to moving back towards the physical delivery of lessons, technology will enable St Mary’s to continue to offer outstanding teaching and learning in a new educational environment that
is here to stay. Our next challenge is to question how we can share our learnings and resources to those who may not have had the same rewarding experiences of lockdown learning.
Harriet Connor-Earl, Headmistress
Please join the St Mary’s School Hampstead Virtual Open Mornings throughout this term. To meet Mrs Connor-Earl and book your personal tour of the School, please register at: WWW.STMH.CO.UK or call: 020 7435 1868