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An interview looking back at what Seaford has achieved in response to Covid-19.
We catch up with Deputy Head, James Passam, to reflect on Seaford's response to lockdown and the temporary closure of the school. In just a few weeks, Seaford ambitiously transferred the entire school online with our Seaford Connected Learning Programme.
Seaford moved classes online, through your Seaford Connected Learning programme. Could you begin by telling me a bit about what this involves?
Seaford Connected Learning has effectively seen us transfer our entire school day into an online curriculum where all students in Year 7-13 have been able to follow their normal, full school timetable, including their option subjects, co-curricular activities and games sessions. Students in Year 6 and below have also followed a revised curriculum with a priority given to maths, English and science. We have made use of Zoom throughout this period across the entire school (Prep, Senior and Sixth Form), which has importantly provided face-to-face contact between teachers and students in every lesson.
At the beginning of lockdown, and over the Easter holiday period, the team at Seaford College worked hard to put in place this remote teaching platform, christened ‘Seaford Connected Learning’. Our simple aim was to create a system that gave our students the best possible chance to progress in all aspects of their learning, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Headmaster, John Green, said: "I am certain that this all-new and innovative platform will be fundamental and instrumental in developing and securing positive academic outcomes for all students over the vital weeks ahead. The platform encompasses the academic curriculum as well as co-curricular options and pastoral/wellbeing support.”
In difficult times, we discover more about what our strengths truly are; ours has undoubtedly been the strength of our very special Seaford community, which is what the school is all about. Everyone in this school community has shown an unbelievable, positive commitment to working together, and in adapting to new ways of working. We are seeing creativity, partnership and innovation wherever we look. Our students have been amazing at supporting each other.
I truly believe that through all of this we are, as a community, learning so much together and ultimately becoming ever closer. The Headmaster frequently refers to ‘Team Seaford’, and ‘Together – Stronger’ – sentiments that have been apparent throughout this period.
Our lessons have been organised and delivered using Firefly and Zoom. Firefly enables teachers to set tasks and embed rich media into those tasks to form lesson content. This can include documents, questions, videos, galleries, web links and, of course, Zoom, to name a few elements. Students and parents can see these tasks, and students are able to submit work and mark the task as complete. Teachers are able to mark the submitted document online with comments and highlighted elements before providing formal feedback, which displays on the student’s profile page. All lessons have included a Zoom element of around twenty minutes of face-to-face teaching.
In our Year 1-6 in the Prep School, a more bespoke provision of lessons focusing on the core subjects of English, maths and science have been provided in the morning over Zoom. Further optional academic lessons are then made available in the afternoon. There is also extension and project work on Firefly for students who want to do more.
Fundamental to the success of our academic provision has been the priority given to tutoring across all age groups. Each morning all students have ‘Zoomed’ with their tutor – a really important morning ‘check-in’ before the start of the school day. Students have attended assemblies via Zoom, have been presented with awards for academic progress (with digital postcards sent home) and have taken time to discuss important world issues, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Our ‘Pink House’ pastoral support team has been available during this period to support students every step of the way.
We have also continued to run our extensive co-curricular programme over Firefly and Zoom. These have included all music lessons with peripatetic staff, our choir, dance lessons, Zoom fitness sessions and a scholars’ programme in sport, academic enrichment lectures, as well as a wide range of outdoor learning opportunities. Our games sessions have been broadcast live over Zoom with sports staff leading sessions and demonstrating activities. Every Saturday, a full programme of sporting activities, as well as an outdoor education challenge has been posted to the school community, with some fantastic uptake seen in the various photos sent in by our students!
As Deputy Head, I view our Seaford Connected Learning period as a golden opportunity to innovate and be more dynamic in our teaching. The situation was, of course, thrust upon us but as we adapt to any change, so we are able also to grow. I have been keen to encourage leadership from the student body and challenge them to find ways in which they can develop learning, not just for themselves but amongst their peer group. We have run two surveys to parents and students, each time taking on board the comments and suggestions to evolve further and improve our Seaford Connected Learning platform. The positive feedback received in these questionnaires has been really pleasing and great evidence that what we have provided this term for our students has been effective and appreciated.
How has the community responded to the move to online learning? Do you feel proud of how staff, students and parents have coped with the transition?
John Green, Headmaster, in his staff meeting during the last week of term, said: “What we have put together collectively for Seaford Connected Learning is immense, and the feedback has been really, really positive from students and parents. Thank you for everything you’re doing during this unprecedented time.”
The response has been incredible, it’s taken a lot of hard work by students, staff and parents to get set up online in such a short space of time; a true team effort. We’re an ambitious school for every single one of our students, and this ambition can be seen in what has been achieved in such a relatively short period of time. Everyone has pulled together, to go above and beyond, to make this work for everyone.
We have asked for parent and student feedback throughout the Connected Learning period and have implemented changes to improve the experience for everyone.
Our teachers have learnt new technology skills, taught in a completely new way and gone above and beyond to make sure their students are progressing, ensuring they are happy and supported. For any students that have needed extra support we’ve provided Academic Support Clinics with our Learning Support team. This has been open to all students to help them catch up and feel supported, and we have increased the opportunity for these meetings to take place.
Our students have adapted terrifically well and kept their energy levels up, despite the obvious change to their routine. As a staff body, we feel students are where they need to be with their academic progress and we’re proud that they have worked so hard. A noticeable outcome of the Connected Learning period has been the manner in which many of our students have become more mature in their approach to their studies and more independent. Our parents have been so incredibly supportive, we know many are juggling working from home, as well as childcare. They have found the focused time where students connect to Zoom incredibly positive and have seen their children become more independent learners as the period has gone on.
John Green, said: “Parents have commented on the high quality of teaching, we have been on show like never before, and I’m proud to say that the feedback has been superb. Many parents have said how amazing our teachers are, many parents have fed back that they have a lot of respect for the tough job teachers have.”
Do you think that there can be some benefits to remote, online learning?
Definitely, with our Zoom time at the beginning of lessons there is time to focus and concentrate on the task, and ensure each student understands. Students then get time to work independently to complete the lesson. Students have fed back that their organisational skills have had to improve, but also the option to seek clarification from their teacher invaluable.
Our peripatetic music teachers have fed back that students are very focused over Zoom and are learning really quickly. This generation of students are used to learning from digital media and they have adapted to this new way of working incredibly smoothly.
The one thing you can’t replace, though, is human interaction and, as time has gone on, we know so many students have missed their routine and seeing their friends. Where the government has allowed year groups to return, we have organised activity days for our students in Year 6 and below. We have also organised days in school for students of Year 10 and 12, allowing students to see one another in ‘pods’ but also to see teachers and, importantly, to be able to reconnect physically with the school.
The other benefit to remote working is learning life skills. Many companies work in this way and having experience working collaboratively over a conference call is invaluable for the future. Even understanding the different ways a conversation flows over a conference call is a great skill to have.
Thinking about our school’s teaching and learning, I think there may never be another snow day again! We have proved we have the capacity to teach students at home and I can see this being a ‘game changer’ when it comes to offering revision sessions in the run up to public examinations. Furthermore, our digital resources have become infinitely richer. For example, lessons remain in Firefly and can be revisited so that students can consolidate learning in their own time.
How are you looking after the wellbeing of your students during this time? What pastoral support do you have in place, and why is this kind of support so important?
Whilst Seaford is temporarily closed, we know that students are missing social interaction with their friends. With Seaford Connected Learning, we understand the value of tutor times and the importance of these sessions to interact with each other. It helps students feel that they still belong to Seaford and it increases engagement throughout the day. Most lessons include time meeting on Zoom and this face-to-face interaction is enabling students to focus on their work, as well as interact and have discussions, as they would do in lessons in their classrooms. Many students have commented that they look forward to these daily interactions and that they help them to get motivated to ‘log on’ and engage with online learning.
Seaford’s boarding house parents are also having house meetings over Zoom, keeping the positive interaction within our boarding community. Our Pink House team (Seaford’s Pastoral Support Team) continue to offer proactive support to all students and a bookable private Zoom meeting if any student is struggling. All of the pastoral support is making a tremendous difference to the students, and is crucial for their wellbeing and mental health during this period of isolation.
Our co-curricular programme has helped with wellbeing and given students the chance to focus on dance, music, sport or outdoor education.
Our Chaplain, Fr Colin, our Director of Middle School, George Vernon, and our Director of Sixth Form, Joe Follows, have all recorded wellbeing video messages for our community and we’ve shared them regularly over social media to help everyone stay connected. Our prefects have also recorded videos to share with our community and this has helped enormously with everyone’s wellbeing.
We have shared good news stories on our social media and shared the incredible work that has been submitted on our blog and social media. In many cases, we have produced a video montage so that students can see what everyone else submitted and we know from feedback received that our students have enjoyed seeing these.
Everything we have been doing has helped us all feel connected as a community and has supported everyone’s wellbeing.
A few examples of the above messages contained in our social media posts have been:
“Seaford is in all of us, even if we’re apart, we’re all together. We don’t need to be physically together to be Seaford.” – Fr Colin, Seaford’s Chaplain
“We must all remain positive because this current situation will pass – I have no doubt about that. It is going to be difficult and it will affect people we know and care about, but it will pass." – John Green, Headmaster
“Seaford is virtually open with all staff available to support our community.” – John Green, Headmaster
Maintaining communication and positive messages has been key. Our Headmaster, John Green, spoke to students in their year group Zoom meetings during the first week of Connected Learning to encourage and inspire them. He praised them for their attendance levels and for picking up the new way of working so quickly. He reminded them to: "Keep on keeping on!”
John has received a lot of positive feedback including this message from Beanie in Year 10:
“Just to say it was great to get connected to everyone yesterday and have Mr Green say hi. My lessons went really well, it was good to see everyone in my classes and to be connected to Team Seaford. It was brilliant to talk to all my teachers and have their support.” – Beanie Bradley
Our Director of Middle School, Mr Vernon said to our community: “Take care of yourselves and those around you. Little acts of kindness are really important at the moment, for example, making someone a cup of tea and calling a grandparent to stay in touch.”
Have you as a school community, or any of your students on an individual level, taken part in any fund raising or voluntary activities to help others during this period of lockdown?
Kevin Rich, Head of Year 9, launched a tutor challenge, Cycling Acts of Kindness, in an assembly to keep students interacting during Seaford Connected Learning. One example is Lulu who delivered prescriptions to her villagers on her bike to support the acts of kindness initiative. Kevin said: “There are so many wellbeing benefits, of not only cycling, but helping other people through acts of kindness.”
Zac Knight, from Year 9, raised nearly £2,500 for The Sussex Snowdrop Trust with a 13.1 mile run in his garden during lockdown. He decided to take on the half marathon charity run after hearing how the charity was struggling to raise money after the cancellation of fundraising events amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Mrs Artingstall, a member of our teaching staff, set up a Scrub Hub and used her sewing skills to supply local care homes and hospices with PPE.
Hug A Hospital is a local Sussex charity that was set up by a Seaford parent, at the start of the lockdown, to give a metaphorical hug to our local hospitals. The charity asks hospitals and doctors’ surgeries what they need, and they then act on these requests. They have supplied vegetable boxes from local suppliers, supplied water and hand creams and even set up a chill space for front line staff at the Evelina Children’s Hospital.
As a school community, what do you think you will have learnt from this period of lockdown?
Seaford is a very ambitious school and we constantly challenge ourselves to be creative and innovative. From a staff perspective, this period has certainly needed all of this ambition to help us deliver our Connected Learning experience to such a high level. We had the Easter break to set everything up, and teachers had to learn how to use Zoom and plan lessons differently. Everyone has pulled together to make it happen and we’ve had tremendous feedback from students and parents.
Students have also become even more creative with the way they submit work, many have created their own videos to showcase their work. A great example is our psychology teacher, Alison Yates, who set a Seaford Connected Learning challenge to her Year 12 psychology students. Alison said: "I encouraged my Year 12 to make something related to an area of psychology that they have covered, to do some 'creative' learning/revision. I'm impressed with their creativity; food clearly dominated the process!" Our psychology A Level students got creative, Maia Wates created the Brain Structure with food.
Ultimately, I think we’ve proved that we can work together effectively as a team to overcome any challenge that may come our way. We have learnt a lot as a team and this will only make our leadership of Seaford College going forwards even stronger.
Do you think it could have any positive impacts on the education system in the long run?
I would like to think so. I think it has forced an opportunity for educators to reconsider education more broadly, and for parents to see and understand better the challenges that their children often face in their daily schooling. Nationally, we have perhaps been able to reassess the value of schools and of committed and caring teaching.
I foresee an acceleration in schools and universities strengthening their digital platforms, and creating more independent and flexible online learning provision to support teaching and learning in the classroom. I think there will be increased investment from government into ensuring that all schools are able to develop these platforms for all children to be able to access this way of learning. It will not surprise me to see our public examination system altered for the longer term, perhaps with greater empowerment being handed to educationalists rather than left in the hands of politicians.
Most importantly, I believe that this challenging period will result in a greater concern, and therefore investment in, the mental health and wellbeing of young people. All educationalists understand how important this is to safeguarding young people and supporting them through their early lives. I believe a response to this period will be the need to prioritise more money nationally into this most important concern.
As restrictions ease and as we rapidly approach a new school year, how are you planning to keep staff and students as safe as possible?
We are leaving no stone unturned! There is a lot of planning going on, we’re hiring marquees to create more space and hiring more toilet facilities. We have carried out risk assessments directly addressing risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) so that sensible measures are in place to minimise those risks for children and staff. These measures include: provision of hand sanitising stations, signs to promote safe operation of our facilities and to maintain social distancing, frequent cleaning to get rid of the virus on frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, handrails, table tops, toilets, etc. Students will be placed into social pods in which they remain at all times throughout the day and any student who comes into school agrees to maintain social distancing at all times.
Obviously, the restrictions and advice are changing all of the time so we’re planning to make sure we cover all scenarios.
We are also continuing to develop further our Seaford Connected Learning platform. We have been planning for the possibility that ‘blended learning’ will become a necessity in the new academic year, with the distinct possibility of some students needing to remain at home isolating, whilst others attend classes in school. We have already begun the work to add Microsoft Teams and Classnotes to our way of working, and we are creating an effective strategy that enables us to switch seamlessly between different states of schooling if required. We are exploring the adoption of digital textbooks in some subjects, and we are looking at developing our workflows for teaching and learning across the entire College to create a more consistent experience for every learner.
- Seaford Connected Learning