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Leehurst Swan – how they do it

With yet another stretch of lockdown upon us, how are we all faring with homeschooling?

Fitting in work, school and getting food on the table is, to say the least, trying. With the press full of news on how independent schools are providing high quality remote learning, we turn to Leehurst Swan School in Salisbury and chat to Head Terence Ayres about Leehurst At Home.

Terence Ayres: At Leehurst Swan we offer a full timetable of remote lessons to all of our pupils from the age of 4 through to 16. There is a real range in the delivery of lessons and we intentionally use a mixture of live audio, live visual, recorded and independent research/activity lessons to keep the pupils engaged whilst reducing the amount of daily screen time. At Leehurst, we endeavour to support all our families so they can learn remotely; we have loaned pupils laptops, webcams and headsets so they can all successfully access our provision. We encourage parents of our younger pupils to make our remote timetable work for them. Our teachers are online throughout the day delivering lessons but they know that parents are juggling their own work, family life and supporting their children with the online lessons; we give parents of our younger children the freedom to dip in and out of lessons so our remote timetable fits in with their daily routines and not the other way around.

Muddy: What about children of critical workers?

Terence Ayres: There is no difference at all in regards to provision. The one major difference is the face to face, social benefit for our key worker children as they have each other for company.  Human beings are social creatures and our key worker children gain a great deal from the day-to-day, face-to-face  interactions of being in school that our children working remotely are currently missing.

How are you encouraging children to have ‘down time’?

Terence Ayres: For the duration of this second lockdown period for schools, we have stopped setting homework and have encouraged our pupils to spend time away from their screens. For our older senior pupils, this is easier said than done but in my weekly bulletins for parents, I encourage families to spend time together and enjoy this precious time which may not come again. Jon Kabat-Zinn is quoted as saying: ‘The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.’ Eating together, walking together, talking together and being together are precious little things and moments that may well disappear from the forefront of our minds once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Have you found any unusual ways to encourage exercise/sport?

Terence Ayres: Our Head of PE, Mrs Fiona Pearce, launched her ‘28 day challenge’ for the whole of our Leehurst Swan community, to encourage all of us to raise our heart rate every day and enjoy some fresh air. Prep and Senior pupils have a separate 28 day challenge and activities include:

  • Zumba and Yoga workouts;
  • Walks in the fresh air;
  • Hip hop Workouts;
  • Household chores;
  • Playing outside with a family member within your household and
  • Mini circuit training.

How are drama, art, music, DT studied online? 

Terence Ayres: In the Prep Section of the school, Mrs Oldham, our Head of Prep, has just launched the Capable Kids Mini and Junior Duke Awards which can be completed at home and gives children the opportunity to participate in a variety of new experiences. It teaches them that it is good to ‘have a go’ and challenges them to learn new and varied skills from an early age. By enrolling our children in the award, we hope they will learn that they may not always succeed first time and that is okay which helps them to develop the resilience they will need throughout their lives.

Our drama, music and ADT (art, design and technology) continue remotely as usual but in a slightly different form. For example: in drama, pupils have been writing and performing their own monologues; in music, pupils have downloaded a keyboard app and have been composing and performing their own musical pieces; art and design and technology have continued as usual but pupils have been encouraged to experiment with digital packages. One of the real positives that has come out of both lockdown periods, is the way both pupils and staff have adapted, learnt new skills and developed.

How is your pastoral care continuing while children are at home? 

Terence Ayres: Leehurst Swan prides itself on its pastoral provision and we have again, in this second lockdown, been committed to supporting our pupils and parents pastorally. Weekly form times, assemblies and PSHCE lessons, alongside regular zoom and telephone calls for parents, ensure that our ‘parent, pupil and school, partnership triangle is as strong, if not stronger, during this period of lockdown. To quote from an email sent to the school this week from a Year 11 parent: ‘I have often thought, throughout my son’s time at Leehurst, how pleased I am that he is there, and never more so than during this awful pandemic. The staff are so committed to providing the best education for the children, and consider their welfare a priority. My heartfelt thanks to you all.‘  

How do you create/continue a sense of community for the school during lockdown?

Terence Ayres: Our weekly assemblies, form times and regular two-way communications keep us all in touch with one another and make us feel like one team working together to get the very best out of each other. I have been so humbled by – and so proud of –  the way our whole school community has pulled together to provide our pupils with a comprehensive and engaging timetable during this second lockdown.

Do you have any tips to help parent keep their kids positive, bright and ready to learn?

Terence Ayres: Much has already been published regarding sticking to routines and the importance of exercise outside. The one thing I would add to this is be positive role-models and demonstrate the behaviours you want your children to have. For example, I love reading and I have always made time to read and chat about books that I am reading with the pupils, so, ultimately, ‘I practise what I preach’. I would encourage parents to do the same – if you are positive, interested and enthusiastic about what they are learning, it is more than likely they will be too!

How do you make things fun???

Terence Ayres: By having fun! A great example of this was our staff panto at the end of last term. We knew we weren’t going to be able to run our Christmas senior theatre trip to London’s West End or take our Prep pupils to watch the Salisbury Theatre Panto, so we filmed our own and the pupils watched it in their form rooms on the final day. The staff had an absolute blast rehearsing and performing, and all our pupils, no matter what their age, enjoyed seeing their teachers in a slightly different light!

How does an independent school like Leehurst really come into its own in these difficult circumstances?

Terence Ayres: In my opinion it is all of the above! To quote from an email I received this week: ‘To Mr Ayres and the truly wondrous Leehurst team.  It’s been quite a year, but hats off to you all.  We have been so impressed by the ingenuity, dedication and inspirational teaching given by the Leehurst staff.  Credit to the leadership too.  The positivity radiating from every newsletter and through the school has kept the mood up.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts’

Want to find out more? Read our Muddy review.

Leehurst Swan School, 19 Campbell Rd, Salisbury SP1 3BQ. Tel: 01722 333094, leehurstswan.org.uk

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