Remote learning - Hurstpierpoint College

Remote learning

The first lockdown in 2020 gave rise to a genuine digital revolution at Hurst which allowed a seamless transition to online learning for the rest of the year and into 2021. Teachers were not only familiar with their new Surface Pro laptops, but had also 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

Students’ feedback
A snap IT survey at the start of this term identified 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. Meanwhile, the full range of co-curricular offerings continued apace, just as it had done last summer.

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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. Housemasters and mistresses, ably supported by their tutor teams, are working hard to strike the balance between regular one-on-one pastoral support for those who need it, and group activities, assemblies, games, quizzes and competitions for those who want to feel those myriad human connections that are such an intrinsic part of Hurst life.

Looking ahead
As more information is forthcoming from Ofqual and the exam boards regarding GCSEs and A-levels, our pupils will have a little more certainty over what lies in store for the rest of this academic year. For now, we just have to hope that the government allows all pupils to return as soon as they feel it is safe to do so to resume the full programme of activities on site. 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, and twice-weekly Covid testing is in place for staff and students, to ensure our College campus is as safe as possible.

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.

Centralised 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.

Throughout the whole transition, communication was channelled through daily updates from the Headmaster, Tim Manly. His informative, entertaining missives appealed to parents to provide honest feedback, and this proved instrumental in shaping our approach. As a result, the comments received were full of praise for the commitment, creativity, speed of adaptation and sheer hard work that Hurst staff had demonstrated, and sharing this immensely positive feedback with staff was a crucial factor in maintaining morale throughout a very difficult time for everyone in the country.

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. Two examples of these are the remote exams that we organised for Lower Sixth students and a remote parents’ evening.

The remote exams took place through Teams, and five minutes before the start time, students were sent instructions to download and print the exam paper. To replicate exam conditions, students completed their exams in front of their webcam, supervised by staff. They then photographed and uploaded their scripts at the end of the exam. We upscaled this method for all year groups to conclude the year just as if we were physically on site.

The remote parents’ evening allowed parents, pupils and teachers of each subject to come together in a meeting, wherever they were based, and proved to be hugely popular with all concerned.