Guest Blog By David Smith, Head of School
Throughout the past 10 months everything in education has seemed to change. Words such as ‘bubble’ and ‘social distance’ have been redefined and we have all become accustomed to constantly speak of ‘these unprecedented times’. Through this, government guidance has fluctuated, often frustratingly, following announcements from the media, resulting in ever increasing anxiety for staff, students and parents. While many may feel that the education system is fighting an impossible task right now, I think a different perspective is needed. For there is one thing that has not changed, one thing that remains within our schools, one thing that we know more than anybody else; more than the government, exam boards and the media experts: it’s the students that we teach.
Before we are given government guidance about who counts as vulnerable, my staff already know who falls within this category. We know who is likely to suffer remotely before their work is submitted, and we know the boys who need the pastoral support before issues even arise. We have been educating our boys since the day we first met them; laying foundations for high expectations and standards, instilling an enterprising spirit and a passion for debate and challenge in the Christian faith. Our holistic approach at FBS means that we educate inside the classroom and outside of it, on the playing field and in the dining hall, through school performances and parent consultations; whenever we get the chance we do it, it’s who we are and what we are committed to. So when the debate about remote learning raises its head we choose to think bigger, we choose to extend our horizon; it’s not about remote learning, it’s about continuing our vision for our boys in creating well rounded young men academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.
You see, we have opted away from throwing ourselves into a fully live approach to our lessons. Doug Lemov, a well respected contributor to the profession through his book ‘Teach like a Champion’, has offered a substantial amount of research into the benefits of balancing synchronous and asynchronous instructional methods. Furthermore, we think that research from cognitive scientists supports our strong belief in the importance of focusing on retrieval practice and interleaving, to ensure our students make the progress they can while being at home. Our hybrid approach allows for students to be engaged face-to-face by their teacher and peers online, to be able to participate in retrieval practice and past learning but then to be set to task independently to focus on producing high quality work; only through this can we fully check understanding and deliver the feedback that moves our boys on.
But behind our approach is something a lot more important and something that the government and the media fail too often recognise. Teaching is not just about the grades, it’s about building that relationship, ensuring that our students are happy, safe and secure. Within a normal lesson this would have been through a raised eyebrow, a small smile or a conversation kneeling at a desk to build some confidence. The means may have changed but the focus has not. The knees to my suit trousers are surviving a lot better than usual this year, and instead we are intentionally engaging through live form time, through our mental health programme in PSHCE and through sport challenges. Weekly feedback on work for KS5 and KS4 and bi-weekly for KS3 ensures our boys feel valued; when a boy makes progress he further buys into what we are about, he continues to feel a part of something and has an identity to hold onto.
It seems that the general population has suddenly gained teaching qualifications and the right to argue for how the profession should be. Emotions are high and many are struggling; I can sympathise with this. As a Head of School, married to a senior midwife in the NHS, with two school aged children I can understand why so many feel the need to vocalise how they feel right now. But we must take stock, we must breathe and reflect on what our purpose is within the lives we have chosen to live. As a school our priority is our boys; we teach them, speak of them, fight for them and pray for them. That’s why our decisions, throughout all of this, have to be for what is best for them. We don’t have a remote learning approach, we have an educational approach; moving boys on academically while ensuring that no-one can be left behind. Ensuring that our boys know that beyond the grades they achieve they are loved and treasured by us as a school.
The government’s guidance may change again and the goal posts may move. At FBS we will constantly reflect, sometimes go with the current but equally be happy to fight against the tide. We will not get caught with our heads in the sand of remote learning, for that is not the focus; we will raise our heads to fight for the holistic education that we believe our boys deserve. When the dust settles, when FBS sits within its permanent home on the Fulham Road, when we meet again in the flesh, I am sure we will all look back and be extremely proud of what we have achieved.