Remote learning - Hurstpierpoint College

Remote learning

The Prime Minister’s announcement at the start of January meant that our children in the Prep and Pre-Prep moved into another phase of remote learning.

Fortunately for Hurst pupils, the previous six months had seen a genuine digital revolution which allowed a seamless transition to online learning. Our teachers had amassed a wealth of experience, knowledge and ideas from the first period of remote learning.

This term we have made the additional changes to our online learning.

Remote Learning in 2021

Pupils’ feedback
Through constant close communication with form tutors, we were able to identify pupils who needed help with minor glitches (wi-fi, webcams, printing etc) and highlighted the teaching techniques that the pupils themselves thought worked best. Their feedback was invaluable in pointing out some of the best ways to add variety, make full use of the technology, and increase pupil interaction.

The new MS Teams feature of breakout rooms was a particularly popular addition, allowing pupils to collaborate in small groups during lessons and really feel that they were connecting with one another rather than being isolated at home.

Structure of the week
We were also able to draw on our experience of the previous remote learning period to make adjustments to the structure of the week – bringing games time earlier, for example, to allow the pupils to exercise outside whilst it was still light. We also slightly shortened the length of the school day to provide valuable time away from the screen. Meanwhile, the full range of co-curricular offerings continued apace, just as it had done last summer.

For the Pre-Prep, mornings include a mixture of live teaching and pre-recorded videos for Maths and Read Write Inc literacy lessons. In the afternoons there are one-to-one reading and interventions sessions as well as optional activities and ‘Big Writing’ . During the week there is also a chapel service and PE and dance activities which are delivered live. There is time every day for a story and this is also an opportunity for some fun and games as a class.

During lockdown no prep work is set for pupils under Year 7 to reduce screen time for these younger children.

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Interaction as a community
The one thing that the Hurst community has had to work on the most is precisely that – maintaining the sense of community which makes Hurst a special place to study and work. In the Prep and Pre-Prep, we increased the number of tutor times available for pupils so that they could spend time socialising with their friends in a variety of enjoyable ways. On-line games such as Charades, Pictionary, scavenger hunts and discos have allowed our pupils to remain very much connected with their school friends which is such an intrinsic part of Hurst life.

Looking ahead
We are all looking very much looking forward to the government allowing all of our pupils to return as soon as they feel it is safe to do so. Whenever they do return, we will be ready for them – mass COVID testing facilities included. In the meantime, we continue with our aim to offer the best possible all-round education, whilst looking forward to getting back to normality as quickly and safely as we can.

Hurst College remains open for children of parents who are keyworkers.

Building on our Remote Learning in 2020

We are continuing to provide high-quality remote learning as we did from March 2020.

Digital hardware
One of our first priorities as the first lockdown was announced, was to ensure that all staff and pupils had the equipment to teach or learn from home. An audit of digital devices redistributed laptops to those who needed them, and support staff were encouraged to take their office desktop computer home to enable remote working. Teachers were equipped with deskcams, whilst pupils’ devices were upgraded and checked to ensure that all were ready for a transition to the online world.

Child's hands working on a digital tabletCentralised learning platform
Hurst were fortunate to be ahead of the game in the transition to a cloud-based network. Already 12 months into an 18-month project, it became clear that we needed to accelerate the final six months and condense this into just a few weeks to ensure we were truly cloud based.

We store all of our teaching and learning resources in a bespoke SharePoint site called Hurst Online and this allows all teachers and pupils to access PowerPoints, worksheets, exam papers, mark schemes, online video tutorials, tests and revision materials from any device, anywhere in the world. In addition, by centralising the delivery of lessons through Microsoft Teams, with easy access to applications such as OneNote, we were able to make it as straightforward as possible to deliver live lessons whilst giving teachers freedom over how to teach.

Staff training
Upskilling staff and students fast was essential. Our Digital Learning Team took the lead in developing video tutorials and offering drop-in sessions for those who needed help, whilst weekly bulletins offered hints and tips to share best practice. At the start of 2020 staff were unfamiliar with Microsoft Teams, but over the past year there has been a 970% increase in its use.

Whole staff INSET sessions (delivered virtually where appropriate) showcased the very best examples of teaching, giving colleagues both confidence and inspiration to experiment in their own departments. Just as importantly, the standardisation of teaching resources (with Heads of Department co-ordinating the creation of high-quality, bespoke materials) allowed teachers to focus on delivery rather than continually reinvent the wheel in their own bunkers at home.

Structural adjustments
One of the most interesting challenges was to redesign the school day to adapt to the new way of working. We implemented the following:

  • Slightly shorter lessons and longer gaps between helped to reduce screen time
  • Synchronising the Prep School and Senior School timetables to allow families with siblings in two different parts of the college to take lunch together
  • Regular short tutorial slots allowed tutors time to offer one-on-one support to pupils
  • New timetabling allowed for an earlier finish each day without losing any of our co-curricular provision

This last point has proven critical: by continuing to offer a programme of assemblies, sports sessions, choir and orchestra practices, musical rehearsals, activities sessions and CCF (to name but a few), the regular rhythms of Hurst life has continued – and the pupils have stayed fit, healthy and active.

In the Pre-Prep and Years 3 and 4 the new structure is focused on live delivery of numeracy and literacy in the mornings with a variety of creative and science-based tasks to be completed in the afternoon, alongside one-to-one reading with the class teacher – and then the whole class comes together again for story time to end each day.

The sudden switch to remote teaching and learning has allowed us to embrace technology in a number of new and innovative ways, beyond just the delivery of online, live lessons – impressive though that has been.