In honour of May the Fourth, or ‘Star Wars Day’ as it is humorously known, I feel like I should begin this article with “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”! This would certainly reflect just how other-worldly the last three weeks have felt for many students, staff and doubtless parents of Taunton School. It has been, at times, an alien experience, but also one full of delightful new sights, sounds and skills – like lightsaber training with a helmet on!
Enough of the space metaphors. It has been an incredibly challenging time on many levels. But the students and teachers have responded magnificently to these challenges. Recent surveys on our remote provision showed that, despite their separation from friends and school, around 40% of our student body feel ‘happy’ or ‘very happy’, and nearly a quarter rated the start of this term as ‘less stressful than normal’. Students value the live lessons we have been running on the Microsoft Teams platform, the support of their tutors, and the helpfulness, availability and creativity of their subject teachers. Especially for older year groups, online learning does allow for a greater degree of independent learning and managing one’s own time and, although the press is full of stories about ‘Covid learning loss’, some students could come out of this period of lockdown having learnt more than they would have normally in certain areas. Of course, the cost of this will be lack of team sport, socialising, community engagement and many of the other lovely things which characterise the life of Taunton School and others like it, but in narrowly academic terms, lockdown is far from a disaster so far.
I am enormously indebted to the Taunton School staff for their amazing efforts to get remote learning off the ground and deliver lessons whilst balancing other commitments in sometimes difficult domestic circumstances. The hardest thing for teachers has been electronic workflow and the difficulty of monitoring and marking work submitted on different platforms. Students in turn have had to learn quickly how to jump between applications. With this in mind, we have reduced prep expectations for Years 9 and 10 – the idea being to focus on quality and consistency over quantity, and this means that schemes of work will be lengthened all the way to the end of term. Even if we do return to school in June, there will be no exams – to everyone’s relief!
Like everyone, we are hanging on every Government statement and press conference, trying to glean some clues about what lies ahead. But one thing which is obvious is that, come what may, we have a strong community at Taunton School which will bring us through adversity and out into happier times with few damaging after-effects.
We aim to show off some of the great things our students have been getting up to in their lessons over the coming days, through social media and on the school website.
With best wishes to everyone: May the Fourth be with you!
Damian Henderson, Deputy Head Academic