Sutton Valence is an educational community whose philosophy embraces a breadth of challenges and there was no greater challenge than trying to maintain our vision for the education of our pupils through virtual channels during the difficult time of COVID-19 lockdown.
With the closure of schools coming just days before the end of the Lent Term, the staff body worked tirelessly over the Easter Holidays to create opportunities for pupils to continue to learn and make progress and provide them with access to the support and guidance of their teachers via Microsoft Teams and Zoom video sessions. Pupils were trained in the days before the end of term and more extensive staff training and network preparation took place remotely over the holidays as teachers and ICT staff gave generously of their time to ensure the school was ready for the start of the Summer Term (in addition to looking after children of ‘key workers’ at our Prep School).
The School’s provision was entitled ‘Virtual Journeys’ in line with the four ‘journeys’ that pupils undertake at Sutton Valence. Comprehensive guides were produced for pupils and parents that outlined plans for the continuation of their education from the start of the Summer Term, and clear, regular communication with parents was paramount during this period. As well as enabling pupils to follow their usual timetable via live lessons on Zoom and resources, prep and all work available on Microsoft Teams, the School worked hard to ensure that opportunities for moral, spiritual and personal development were also available.
Virtual Chapel services, weekly Headmaster’s Assemblies, live tutor time each day via Zoom, PSHE and live House meetings enabled the supportive, caring and nurturing environment associated with the School to continue to be available to all. Co-curricular and enrichment opportunities were available each week that helped pupils to gain balance and promote well-being whilst working in unfamiliar conditions – Games and PE continued with gusto via the ‘SVS I-Fit’ programme of video challenges and detailed fitness programmes for each year group, weekly virtual fixtures against other schools in the South-East and wider enrichment opportunities were made available for pupils ranging from the School’s Junior Leadership course, ‘Zoomposiums’ for Scholars, preparation for life beyond school courses for Sixth Form and links for online co-curricular courses were just a few examples of the provision provided to the pupils.
Whilst the traditional ‘last week of the Summer Term’ programme of trips and residentials could not happen, the School provided pupils with a variety of entertaining and enjoyable activities that allowed pupils to have some time away from the screen and enjoy some community-based challenges to mark the end of term.
Without doubt, the ‘Virtual Journeys’ programme was a resounding success, with parents providing a constant stream of positive feedback and overwhelming support. So much so, that when Fourth Form and Lower Sixth parents were surveyed about returning to school after the change in guidance from the Government in June, over 85% voted to continue with the online provision from home and take advantage of three days in school during the last week of term to launch the UCAS process and provide Fourth Form pupils with face-to-face academic and pastoral guidance.
What has Sutton Valence learned from this experience? It has reaffirmed what we have always known – that the care, commitment and sense of community amongst everyone at Sutton Valence meant that one of the greatest challenges the School has faced in recent times became a positive opportunity and huge success. So much so, it has accelerated the School’s Digital Strategy to launch earlier than planned, with all pupils being required to have a digital-ink enabled device for this September, all teachers using Microsoft Surface Pros for lessons and work and resources being used across the Microsoft One Note and Teams applications. Whatever may be around the corner, Sutton Valence will be more ready than ever and pupils will continue to have access to the highest quality education.