The New Normal: School Life During Covid
The Autumn Term is now well underway and living with the pandemic has become the ‘new normal’. As the season turns and the weather grows colder, what is school life like for children at Highfield & Brookham? How has the pandemic affected their daily lives and their educational experience?
Perhaps the single biggest change is the re-structuring of the school community into smaller groups, known as ‘bubbles’. The aim of the bubbles is to minimise the number of contacts that a pupil has during the school day so as to reduce the risk of transmission. This also means that should we have a case of Covid -19 in the school, fewer children and staff would need to be quarantined and the potential disruption to others is minimised. We still enjoy whole school events, such as assemblies, but now by live screen from the safety of our separate classrooms.
Social & Emotional
Given the young age of children at Highfield and Brookham, within the bubbles there will inevitably be contact with other children from time to time and so hand and respiratory hygiene are a top priority. We also conduct daily temperature checks and there are robust cleaning procedures in place. Classrooms are kept well ventilated and have been re-arranged so that the children face forwards rather than towards each other. When outside, children are able to sit and play together within their bubbles. It's good to remember, that even more important than protecting children from the virus, is protecting their emotional development and sense of wellbeing. We are so impressed with how the children have adapted to the new arrangements and that we have seen no impact on their enjoyment of school life.
In terms of minimising the impact of Covid on school life, a real turning point was acquiring our own supply of on-site, fully accredited Covid-19 antigen tests that are able to confirm results within 20 minutes. This removes the need to quarantine children unnecessarily while we wait for results. If a boarder should become unwell, they would be cared for by our School Nurses in a separate, warm and cosy dorm. If well enough, they are also able to take part in their lessons via live video link and are provided with books, videos and games to ensure they are well entertained. Read our Re-opening Boarding article for further detail on our health provision during Covid.
Proportionate protective measures are in place to ensure that all pupils continue to receive the best possible education enabling them to thrive and progress.
Academically the impact is minimal. In order to prevent contact between the protective bubbles, teachers move between classrooms to teach, instead of the children. Art, DT, Music, ICT, PE and Games are taught in their normal dedicated areas, making use of our excellent facilities, albeit with strict hygiene routines in place. This enables children to continue to benefit from our first-rate specialised teaching. In order to protect children and staff and to mitigate the risk of teachers moving between bubbles, pupils maintain a 2 metre distance from teachers and use protective screens, personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitising gels. Use of face coverings is discretionary except for in communal areas and in certain departments where they are compulsory, such as Catering for example.
As all parents know, a major highlight of our children’s days is food! Our fantastic, dedicated Catering Team has worked extremely hard in adapting their operations and procedures to continue to provide the most enjoyable experience; a home-made, hot lunch each day as well as the delicious breakfasts and suppers so appreciated by our boarders. As a safety precaution, buffet service has been suspended for now, and children enjoy ‘family service’ sitting at a table together with their form tutor and classmates.
Sport & Extra-curricular
The Sports programme is running as normal for this time of year with girls playing hockey and netball and the boys, football. We are not currently playing sports matches against other schools on Wednesdays and Saturdays as we usually would, however these have been replaced with in-house matches so the children still benefit from the thrill and excitement of match play. Extra-curricular activities after school have been reduced in number, but there is still a fantastic range on offer and plenty of choice. The current programme offers 33 different options from Zumba, Mindfulness and Mandarin, to Art, Bushcraft and Coding!
Things just wouldn’t have been the same without our boarders though - it’s great to have them back! At first we invited just those who couldn’t attend the school unless they were residential, so our international, forces and ex-pat children. Then once they had settled in, we were delighted to welcome back our local boarders too. Safety precautions in the boarding houses follow the same pattern as in the rest of the school and boarders are grouped into protective bubbles referred to as ‘households’. More information can be found in our Boarding Handbook. With around sixty children living in, (just less than half our usual number of boarders) maintaining social distancing is much easier. Around a third of the current boarders are ex pat and international children, which although not our usual ratios, means there is a good mix and ensures everyone feels at home and in good company. As a Year 8 international boarder just commented to me at lunch,
It’s different with the social distancing, but we still have fun and I love the obstacle course and being free to play outside.
While on the subject of numbers, one surprising result of the pandemic is a huge increase in enquiries from new parents, in fact a 167% increase compared to the average in previous years. Our Admissions Department say that parents are phoning having heard about how well Covid is being managed at the school, as well as the success of our remote teaching and learning programme during lockdown. UK and international families seeking to move out of the city to a less populated, more rural location have also contributed to this surge in enquiries.
School life has indeed seen many changes, but change also brings a positive, renewing energy. Throughout the pandemic, we have found new ways of continuing to deliver a first rate, genuinely broad education in a safe and happy environment, and there is a stronger sense of community and togetherness in the school as a result. As our Headmaster, Phillip Evitt says,
It is an utter joy to have extremely happy children share how much they are enjoying themselves, clearly happy to be back and having a wonderful time.
If you’re a family overseas considering whether to send your child to a UK boarding school, our Covid-19 guarantee means you can register your child safe in the knowledge that you will not lose out financially, or be compelled to accept a start at the school with online learning due to Covid-19. Read more.
Head of International Development & Strategy