Operating in a ‘Covid-era’
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Sedbergh School for the last six months has been eerie without the general hubbub of happy children going about their lives and we have been delighted to welcome our pupils back. We realised it would not be easy but after a very successful term of virtual teaching, we were eager to return to some degree of normality. We fully appreciated that it would not be easy and the many and changing variables has made getting to this point a complex project. After a much-needed rest for all of our staff, we are now devoting our time to ensuring that we can continue to deliver quality holistic education in as secure an environment as possible.
Mr Dan Harrison, Headmaster, is equally as pleased to have pupils back on campus for the first time in six months saying, “I am delighted by how we have accommodated some of our international pupils in our two pre-term houses. The pupils have been following all the protocols and have adapted well and they are very happy to be back in School, with smiles on their faces.”
We have worked hard to be transparent with our parents by keeping all of our communication channels open. Weekly webinars and Q&A sessions as well as documents highlighting our operating practices have all been widely shared. We want to ensure we strike the right balance between having a safe and secure environment for all of our pupils and returning to the school our pupils left behind in March which encompasses academia, extra-curricular activities and importantly, having fun! As with all new school years, we have many new pupils, new families and many who are new to boarding and it is important we maintain those relationships to provide the reassurance that this is a place where their children will thrive. We have opened our school early to allow those coming to us from countries which require quarantining to have 14 days here on campus before the start of term.
The practicalities of operating a school in the ‘Covid-era’ comes with a lot of unwelcome but necessary disruption to ensure safety. We ensure that all pupils and staff are informed and trained in our new protocols and risk assessments and aim to do so in a slow and deliberate manner to ensure questions are answered, reassurance provided and new areas of concern identified. Practicalities of isolation, testing and quarantine are all in place and stress-testing has happened to ensure that we are ready for whatever comes our way. The full refurbishment of a new, small isolation house (called ‘Nightingale’) which is staffed and ready to accept pupils should we be faced with a positive case.
Pupils desire to return to school and return to normality is palpable and there is no doubt the first few weeks and months will be challenging as we all have to learn how to operate in a different normal. At times this will be difficult and social distancing in a busy, full boarding school is often unwelcome but we all work together to our best to avoid whole-scale disruption to education. Using the experience of our staff and our pupils to plan this in advance and creating clear guidance and instructions to make this as unobtrusive as possible has been critical.
Sedbergh School is nestled within a thriving small town and the school is woven intrinsically into the fabric and history of the town. However, the sudden arrival of over 500 children may well be an unwelcome addition and we are doing all we can to ensure everyone feels safe. Pupil movement around the town is heavily restricted at the start of the year and our footpaths and public paths are carefully controlled. This is a town where collaboration and cooperation are at the core of the heritage and we are working closely with the organisations in the town to ensure we play our part. Communicating and inviting comment and discussion is a critical way to ensure the safety of everyone whilst bringing the town to life with the noise of the children who also call this their home.
The myriad challenges have been keeping us busy all summer and will continue to occupy all of our thoughts, actions and practices for many months to come. Many would consider some of these challenges insurmountable, yet here at Sedbergh we’re using them as an opportunity to develop, to grow and to review our practices – many of which have been in place for hundreds of years – with fresh eyes and a fresh sense of enthusiasm to make this year a memorable and exciting event for the whole community.