As a proud Scot, I couldn’t let Burns Night pass this week without getting dressed up in tartan, cook the traditional dish of haggis, neeps and tatties, and address said “great chieftain of the pudding race”. My wife- a fellow Scot- humoured me through this rigmarole, her look of amusement less resulting from the wit of Scotland’s bard and more on the abomination that is my DIY Lockdown haircut, a shearing that has certainly been a ‘talking point’ amongst my pupils this week in online lessons...
I was reminded of another famous Burns poem- ‘To a Mouse’- whilst reflecting on the past few weeks as we’ve launched the second iteration of the co-curriculum in remote. As Burns famously put it, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men/Gang aft agley” and so it was for us as our carefully prepared plans for the Lent Term found themselves scrunched up and tossed aside as we responded to the Government’s announcement of school closures and, with just three days to do so, hastily crafted a new plan for how we’d deliver the co-curriculum in remote.
Reflecting on the experience of the summer term and taking on board feedback, our focus has shifted with an emphasis on four key areas, summarised below:
Off Screen and Active
Conscious of the impact of the amount of screen time, we have timetabled ‘off screen’ times every day for pupils to get off screen, get outside and get active. These are scheduled in the middle of the day and provide valuable ‘breathing space’ for both pupils and staff to recharge and re-energise ahead of afternoon lessons.
The co-curricular programme has likewise evolved in an effort to minimise additional screen time. Whilst many activities (such as virtual MUN debates or Q&As with sports professionals) require screen time to be delivered effectively, we have built in more flexibility to the programme to avoid too much in the way of additional time in front of a screen.
Wellbeing is absolutely central to what we have designed. Being in remote isn’t easy. It can be lonely, tiring, frustrating. It can also be very unhealthy with a great deal of time sat indoors behind a screen and with very little movement.
To that end, alongside an expansive and exciting menu of sports options made available through the Shrewsbury Active Movement Programme (SAMP) we have also launched a House Strava Challenge, leveraging the competitive instincts amongst our pupils (and, of course, our HSMs…) to encourage pupils to be active and ‘log’ activity whether running, cycling, or simply walking the dog. Well over 650 pupils have signed up and are participating, and it has been fantastic to see so many of them staying healthy and active at this time.
Across the four strands of the co-curriculum (Activities; Drama; Music; and Sport) there are over 60 activities on offer to pupils and there is a huge variety to the programme.
Whilst we haven’t made the co-curricular programme compulsory for our pupils, we are strongly encouraging them to engage and access the opportunities available to them. Good numbers have signed up to our Thursday afternoon activities programme across a range of over 20 activities from STEM to Russian to Dragon's Den, and our music ensembles and drama activities are likewise proving popular as we aim to sustain and encourage pupils in their interests and talents in these areas, too.
Aside from the opportunities for pupils, we have a number of projects designed to keep the wider Salopian community feeling engaged and connected. Our whole school ‘40in40’ challenge has proved a hugely popular initiative as we collectively aim to travel Around the World in 40 Days- a distance of over 40,000km- whilst likewise raising valuable funds for charities. There are just under 200 members in our Shrewsbury School Community club on Strava –including parents and former pupils- and this has been a wonderful way to connect the Salopian community both near and far. The response has been overwhelming, with 25,000km already travelled in just over 14 days with the Community Club contributing an impressive 8,000km in those two weeks.
We have likewise enjoyed the opportunity to connect the Salopian community through the launch of the Salop’s Got Music Talent concerts. The first instalment was a wonderful celebration of Salopian music and perfect for some cultural escapism with performances from pupils, staff and former pupils. The next concert will broadcast on Wednesday 3 February and can be viewed here (where you can also catch up on the first concert).
A further shift in the focus of the programme is in providing more flexibility to the pupils so that they can access it at a time that works for them. Some of our sessions are live but there is more that is pre-recorded or resources that are pre-prepared. This has partly been with our international pupils in mind to enable their continued engagement but has likewise been designed with the incentive for pupils to be more self-directed and encourage pupil initiative, pro-activity, and likewise ‘finding the balance’- conscious that each and every pupil is an individual and will have differing capacities for engagement and involvement.
One of the key messages for us as we embark upon this latest lockdown period- alongside promoting the importance of thinking about and looking after yourself- has been the message of thinking about others. Our Volunteering@Home project provides a unique opportunity for our pupils to devote meaningful time and energy in making a difference for others and we have already seen some inspiring and humbling examples of pupil service and giving which is wonderful to see.
Similarly, the charity fundraising element of the 40in40 Challenge has quickly gathered momentum where, alongside the distance target we are also aiming to raise £40,000- funds that will go a very long way indeed. If every pupil raises just £50 for their respective house charity then we will reach this target, and with over £6,000 already raised, there has been fantastic progress already made.
These are difficult and uncertain times, for sure, but the last few weeks has served to remind us once again of the indomitable spirit of our pupils which, alongside the creativity, energy and innovation of our wonderful staff, is a very powerful combination indeed. We remain, together apart.
Stay connected, stay safe, stay well.