When the first lockdown was announced (a veritable lifetime ago!) our excellent academic team jumped into action, helped by the IT department and Remote learning, or Directed Learning as we call it, was born.
Wycliffe was able to very quickly move to online teaching and minimise the disruption to the progress of our pupils. While the academic teams were preparing to move online, those also involved in the boarding were grappling with last minute taxi requests, and concerned parents in other parts of the world.
Numbers in Boarding Houses swiftly reduced, leaving only those whose countries had already closed their borders to sit it out while their parents found an alternative route home for them. The expectation was that our Houses would effectively close, with regular contact in the form of a letter, email or perhaps phone call to those we knew were likely to struggle being away from school, however something quite different has emerged and is continuing to sustain us as a community during this second prolonged closure of our school.
One of the reasons school such as ours engender such loyalty and fondness in our alumni is the sense of community we generate whilst they are here with us – with a collective of 8 Houses who tussle each year in drama, general knowledge, a myriad of sports and even whole House singing. My instinct on hearing the news that we were to enter a national lockdown was that for a good number of our pupils, the greatest challenge would be the separation from their House. Their peers, their supportive senior pupils and their Housemaster or Housemistress are often what motivates them to keep going when things are tough. As professionals who are invested in developing the ‘whole’ child it felt remiss to simply ‘switch off’ the House system or reduce it to a ‘check in’, when we insist that it is such a large part of our all-round education.
So, ‘Virtual Houses’ were born. As the first and then second period of Directed Learning has unfolded, the two ‘virtual’ systems of Directed Learning and Virtual Houses have supported each other pretty effectively, providing a check and balance for pupils (and staff) who have been struggling at a given moment during the remote learning periods.
Our truly dedicated, creative and committed resident staff have gone the extra mile over that last 10 months. The list of activities they have managed to convert online has been truly amazing; from Connect 4 to Chess tournaments, whole House karaoke, a debate club, murder mystery evenings, origami and the obligatory cooking demos with a great deal of chocolate! Simple ‘Tea and Toast’ daily catch ups, as well as one to one chats or small group quizzes have been equally as popular as the more creative ideas.
Whilst we still have pupils who continue to find the going tough, the anecdotal feedback has been incredibly positive and appreciative from many families and children. We have managed in some small way to replicate the incredible social network which is always part of our community during ‘normal’ times.
Every pupil may not have felt the need to engage but for those who have it has been an invaluable source of fun, friendship and laughter at a time when it is has been all too easy to feel alone. The pastoral care we have been able to provide from a distance has undoubtedly been timelier and more effective as a result of the virtual house approach.
There are certainly some ‘take-aways’ from the Virtual House experience. We have also found that having a means of whole House communication negates the impact of missed House meetings or unread notices as the message sits on the Teams desktop.
Virtual Houses have been an adventure in the possible for us as a school. We have enjoyed them, but we will be glad to switch them off when the time comes.
Wycliffe College is an independent school based in the beautiful countryside of Gloucestershire welcoming students from the age of 3-19. We aim to create an inclusive, safe and stimulating environment where pupils can be creative, innovative and develop through an independent, individualised learning approach. Learn more about our Boarding School or, for further information contact us today.