Teachers are lucky to enjoy long summer holidays, and a good number of us usually make use of the time to travel and explore. Travel restrictions, flight cancellations and quarantine conditions have all made summer 2020 a somewhat different vacation.
An extended period at home with two older teenage children still introduced me to new places, but through Netflix and a world of television I had never experienced before. In particular I became hooked on ‘Stranger Things’ which struck a chord with its world of ‘The Upside Down’, given that we are all living through a time when the world seems to be in an ‘alternative dimension’.
Returning from a school ski trip to the Aosta Valley in February, terms like ‘lockdown’, ‘R rate’, ‘herd immunity’, ‘social distancing’, ‘new normal’ and ‘clusters’ would have still seemed like science fiction, describing an alternate to the dimension we had all lived in just days before.
A few weeks later when Gibraltar, along with most of the world, went into lockdown in March, the Prior Park School community faced some difficult decisions on how best to continue the delivery of our curriculum to students. Many of us have had to learn how to use various new technologies in a short space of time and the world of education was no different.
As a school, we seamlessly moved over to a ‘Remote Teaching’ platform, which allowed our staff to continue teaching their lessons directly to the students in their homes across the world via Microsoft Teams. The usual daily timetable was followed without any interruption and daily contact between teachers and students, and students and students, was maintained.
The Physical Education department was even able to deliver virtual Zumba lessons via video link and other departments areas found creative ways to keep students engaged in their learning. For ‘home-working’ families such routine and stimulation proved incredibly valuable.
A fundamental aspect of life at Prior Park School life is our pastoral care and this remained an even more key consideration for our students and staff throughout the two-month lockdown period. Every student was able to speak individually to their tutor each week to talk through their concerns and worries and we know that this support that was of huge reassurance to parents.
The feedback from students and parents was overwhelmingly positive and has reassured our community that we can continue to offer high quality education, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
Both A Level and GCSE results days this August further inverted ‘The Upside Down’ world of education in the UK when U turn after U turn left students, their parents, teachers and school leaders confused and potentially lacking confidence about academic outcomes.
A significant amount of time and energy was invested into the internal moderation of our students’ grades, to ensure they were are fair and accurate as possible, and based on a large amount of data for each child including high stakes ‘mock’ examinations.
Such uncertainty imposed by political leaders in the UK was both undesirable and unfair on a generation already impacted by lockdown and school closures. Both the GCSE and A level cohorts had put in two years of hard work and thoroughly deserved to achieve the fantastic results they were awarded and they and their parents should very proud and confident of the accuracy of their achievements.
The GCSE cohort achieved a 100% pass rate and an incredible 71% of all grades were between a 7-9. One quarter of all their grades were the highest possible grade, Level 9.
In the Sixth Form, we had our first ever set of A Level results for our first cohort of year 13s. The students achieved a 100% pass rate and 36% of all grades achieved were an A*, the highest possible grade.
These outstanding results outperform all but the most selective of UK Independent schools.
We were further pleased and reassured that none of our ‘Centre Assessed’ Grades were moderated down, proving the confidence that the UK awarding bodies have in our performance and progress as a school.
Returning to school this September has posed a significant challenge with a safe return for all staff and students being our highest priority, and yet, at the same time, wanting to start to turn the students’ and our worlds the ‘right way up’ again.
The start of term has seen age groups grouped into ‘bubbles’ within lessons and activities as well as staggering arrival, departure, break and lunch times. Masks are only worn when ‘bubbles’ cannot remain separated from each other. The return to a physical school setting will have been daunting for some students who have not been in a school building since March.
Our primary consideration has continued to be the health and wellbeing of all in our school community and strong Tutor and House systems ensure that there are multiple layers of care and support available to everyone.
Watching students chase each other across the playground and laughing and joking as they make their way out of the school gates at the end of the day suggests that, for most, the ‘new normal’ is not that much stranger to the old.