Looking for schooling in these tricky times? Stonar School, near Bath, is certainly one to look at.
An all-through day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 – 18 based in Atworth, near Bath, Stonar is highly ambitious for its pupils. Oh, and there is an absolutely outstanding equestrian centre. Want to know more? Book for their Prep Virtual Open Evening at 7.30pm on 3 Feb, their Senior School Virtual Open Day at 10am on 6 Feb, and their Equestrian Open Morning at 9.30am on 10 March https://www.stonarschool.com/admissions/open-days.
In the meantime, we chat to Head Matthew Way, to find out how it’s all working, and thriving, this term…
Improvise, Adapt and Overcome! That has been our motto in the last ten months. Stonar is a school with a unique charm with happy, kind, enthusiastic pupils. Since the start of online learning, we have sought to hang on to our values, sense of community and its spirit. Of course, like many schools in our sector, we have worked hard to produce an online learning programme that has delivered on the academic front with live lessons throughout the school day. Our challenge has been to ensure that we stay connected as a community, to have some fun and to support our pupils pastorally. It became clear to us early on that this meant that we needed to retain the breadth of opportunity of which we are so proud and so all practical lessons, such as PE and Games, Design Technology, Music, Drama, Art, Photography and Food & Nutrition have all continued, serving to break up our the school day with different types of lessons.
We restructured our school day with hour long sessions replacing 40-minute lessons. This allowed more breaks in the ‘school’ day. Mindful that some of our pupils live outside the UK, we have created bespoke timetables to reflect this, so as many pupils as possible can attend class. The academic curriculum is broken down into individual programmes for all year groups. iPads and laptops have been provided by the School where required along with IT support.
Alongside our academic programme we introduced ‘Stonar Plus – Mind, Body, Soul’. This supports the academic curriculum will be a wide variety of activities, which aim to provide intellectual stimulation, enjoyment and interaction for pupils, and also the wider Stonar community.
With all primary age children sessions need to be engaging and practical. We particularly consider this with our younger aged year groups. Our innovative International Primary Curriculum lends itself well to online learning with humanities and science taught through topics. Each topic starts with a ‘hook’, which has often been a ‘trip’. For example, our Year Four children visited a dinosaur theme park (virtually) before designing their own. Perhaps my favourite innovation at the moment is in our Year Two class who are studying pirates and actually all dress as pirates (including the teacher) for their IPC Foundation sessions!
We have run in-person school for the children of key workers and vulnerable children since the beginning of the pandemic. These pupils still access their online programme, but they do so in school supported by teaching assistants. They also enjoy having the school grounds to themselves and so they get outside to run around at break times.
Our school day has screen breaks built into the timetable and we have encouraged pupils to move away from their workspace at these times. Indeed, the pupils tell us that they have loved going to make a snack in their breaks, although parents are not so keen on the resultant increase in the family food bill!
Our PE team have been amazing at planning active sessions that continue to engage and motivate the children. This has included aerobics and cross-fit style session along with some sports coaching. Hockey, cricket, rugby and athletics have all been coached with parents delighted at the physical activity that this has offered their children, perhaps with the exception of the javelin coaching session! Chairs, toilet rolls, scarves and brooms have all been used to add a little extra to the online sessions. We also run a range of co-curricular clubs across the week encouraging the children and their families to join in the fun. Many of our pupils ride and been able to continue to do so throughout the lockdowns and so that in itself a fantastic form of activity and exercise.
Weekly challenges have included running, cycling, scootering and, of course, riding, which has added some motivation as children, staff and families had the chance to submit scores that were announced in our weekly assemblies.
We have also sought to use this opportunity to engage all children in a health and fitness programme, which will develop their individual sense of responsibility towards their own well-being. We talk regularly about the benefits of physical activity in releasing endorphins, relieving stress and ensuring pupils sleep better, all of which contribute enormously to good mental health and well-being. Being able to adopt good home routines for physical activity now, will also equip our pupils as they move onto the next phase of their lives, when they are no longer being made to take part in compulsory exercise.
Drama, Art, Music and DT are all mainstream curriculum lessons and so are taught within the timetable. Our staff have been creative and these lessons remain firm favourites with our pupils.
Stonar runs a wide range of co-curricular clubs after school during normal times and so we decided to continue with the clubs. These have been particular well attended of late, in the darker afternoons. The offering has been wide ranging: Guinea Pig Care Club, Bike Maintenance, Yoga, Lego Club, Recipe of the Week, Legs Bums & Tums, Sewing Club, French Conversation, Coding Club to name a few.
We have been determined to carry over the culture of care and pastoral intervention, which is such a feature of the school in normal times, to the online environment. Our pastoral team are constantly monitoring the progress and well-being of the children, working with tutors, Houseparents and parents to identify anyone who might be struggling. Our pastoral team meet each week to review pupils’ progress and to decide on action plans. This will often involve a call to pupils every day, just for 15 minutes, to check in on how they are and how they are feeling. Sometimes, this will even be twice daily at the start and end of each day.
In the Prep School, children are given regular opportunities to talk to each other and their teacher both in the online lessons and through regular 1:1 meetings. Outside of lesson times teachers organise small groups sessions. Teachers also regularly check in with families. Over the last week all the teachers have phoned and spoken to their families.
We have made a few adjustments this term, but our online learning has evolved since we first started with regular reviews of the programme throughout the summer and last term. Our surveys show that pupils value the independence of working at their own speed. They also appreciate making their own decisions about how they organise and approach their learning. They enjoy having responsibility for managing their own time, for conducting their own research and for producing their own outcomes to open-ended tasks. We have adapted our practices to take this into account. Maybe this is why we are seeing a record number of Merits and Head’s Commendations.
At the core of our collective celebration and reflection are the assemblies we run each week. We use these to celebrate excellent work and to remind ourselves of our values and to guide the pupils. In addition, we have maintained some of the community activity that means so much to us and in which we believe as a community. Our Eco-Committee have continued to be very active, educating us and imploring us to reflect on our practices as families. Plastic free weeks and meat free Mondays are the kind of initiatives that bind us together behind common values. Our association with WWF has also prompted collective activity, including a multi-national summit. Our charity committee are also active and have not gone into hibernation. We are looking forward to a virtual balloon race, a bingo night and a lockdown recipe book. I am also delighted by the success of ‘Mr Way’s Weekly Family Quiz’ with many families joining me for a weekly family-orientated Zoom quiz. All these things serve to connect us to the school community and the things we care about.
Structure and engagement. These are the two things that have been key to a successful online programme and the independent sector grasped this necessity immediately in March/April last year. Innovation, creativity, activity, a full day of lessons and pastoral care all followed. One parent recently told me that he has never felt that his school fees were money better spent and better value than in the last three terms. I think that says it all.
‘Our experience of the home schooling at Stonar has been outstanding. The communication is timely, consistent and very informative. The quality of the education provided has been incredibly well received by our children, who are completely engaged and are really learning, in a positive, nurturing environment.‘ Stonar parent
Stonar School, Cottles Park, Atworth, Wiltshire, SN12 8NT, Tel: 01225 701740, www.stonarschool.com. Book now for their Prep Virtual Open Evening at 7.30pm on 3 Feb, their Senior School Virtual Open Day at 10am on 6 Feb, and their Equestrian Open Morning at 9.30am on 10 March https://www.stonarschool.com/admissions/open-days