Shrewsbury School

Lent Term Academic Update - January 2021

Friday 22 January 2021

An update from Maurice Walters, Deputy Head Academic

I, like many others, sat through Boris’ update on 4th January with a profound sinking sensation. In the aftermath of a Michaelmas Term which, although characterised by operational restrictions and nomadic teaching across the school site, had been largely undisrupted and an indisputable success from a teaching and learning perspective, to lose that sense of physical togetherness on site was a bitter pill to swallow. There was also, of course, that upsetting sense of déjà vu. We have been here before.

I have long since learned never to underestimate the capacity of a Salopian in a tough spot. The levels of active engagement and enthusiasm in this first fortnight have been magnificent – indicated, in no small part by the (literally) thousands of commendations issued in respect of effort and progress. They have my sincere admiration – as do all those teachers who have worked tirelessly and with enormous energy to plan their lessons and tailor this remote learning programme to the needs of every pupil. It is clear that all in the Salopian community are determined to make the very best of being together virtually at a time when we are forced to be apart.

Pupils are more engaged, more alert and thriving on a coherent live programme. The new systems we have put in place allow teachers and pupils alike to keep better track of lesson timings, to make sure they join those all-important video lessons and collaborative sessions at the right point and also keep written work flowing back and forth in that critical process of assessment and reflection. We have placed a very strong emphasis on interactivity our approach – meaning that pupils can spend more time engaging with their teachers and each other not only securing strong progress but also staving off the loneliness of working in isolation.

As in the Summer Term, we are trying to be as sensitive as possible both to the level of screen time and to the possibilities of remote learning fatigue. Learning from the experiences of colleagues both nationally and internationally, we have instituted a programme of ‘positive disruption’ for all year-groups – allowing them to move away, briefly, from the structure of the Timetable to do something different and productive in a different way. This week it has been the turn of the Lower Sixth, who have had the opportunity to engage in a range of talks, workshops and activities from the world of Careers, ably co-ordinated by our Futures Faculty. Next week, the Third and Fifth Forms will have the opportunity to consider their own academic futures as they come out of some lessons to explore the options available to them at GCSE and A Level respectively.

The experience isn’t fully comparable to the experience of being at Shrewsbury and in the classroom, but we will continue to keep our approach under review and refine it as the weeks move on. Many of you will already have contributed to the feedback survey and we have begun to process and analyse that data alongside that produced from the pupils themselves.

In addition to the core programme of lessons, we have also launched live faculty clinics for those in need of a little extra help – just to ensure that no pupil feels that they can’t ask those important questions or clarify those vital concepts. Furthermore, each faculty will also run ‘Going Further’ sessions which provide an opportunity for pupils across all year-groups to delve deeper into subjects, moving beyond the confines of the taught curriculum. The uptake for this among staff and pupils has been staggering and humbling in equal measure and this week has already seen pupils from right across the school enjoying talks from teachers from topics as diverse as Humour in Latin Poetry and How to Interpret a Business’ Financial statements. Intellectual curiosity clearly remains undiminished in lockdown. This programme of enrichment for pupils will continue right through this half of term and we will keep you posted with the activities available.

We are also keen to offer enrichment for parents – for those who are keen to reinvigorate their passion for learning. We would warmly invite you to take part in lectures, discussions and seminars in evening sessions during the weeks ahead. Sessions will include Art History, Musicology, Climatology and a whole host of exciting topics and activities. We’ll keep you up-to-date with how to book in for these sessions and we look forward to hosting you!  

We are very much looking forward to seeing pupils back on site again – but in the meantime, we would encourage them that they are doing brilliant things in complicated times.

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