Looking at an independent school? We shine the spotlight on local all-through Warminster School, which boasts the most incredible online provision. Come with us to find out more...
“The provision of online learning by Warminster has proved to us what an amazing community we are part of. Warminster is so much more than the buildings, it’s about the pupils, parents, all the teachers and support staff doing everything they can in a combined team effort. As parents we know we are very lucky that as a family we each have access to a computer and even though we live in a small village, we have excellent broadband. However, this would count for nothing without the excellent level of teaching provision and ongoing all round support from the School. In these uncertain times, our girls have taken comfort from the structure provided by the school day and the interaction in 8×8 sessions with their tutors, teachers and classmates. We chose Warminster for our children 12 years ago and not a week goes by without our being so grateful to be part of the Warminster community. Never more so than now.” Warminster Parent – Nicki Shepherd
One of our favourite schools in Wilts, Warminster has experienced a significant upsurge in interest during the lockdown periods from families. As a community they have always been proud of their exceptional pastoral care and it is this factor, in particular, that has come to the fore during these recent worrying times. Families recognise, more than ever before, that happy, well supported children naturally progress in their academic studies and feel confident to engage in the plethora of co-curricular opportunities on offer at Warminster.
We chat to Matt Williams, Headmaster, to find out about their fantastic online provision.
Can you tell us a little about your remote teaching programme, please?
Over both periods of physical closure, at Warminster we worked extremely hard at providing a robust and interesting educational experience. We utilised a video conferencing platform called 8×8 to deliver ‘live’ lessons across all subjects. From January this was 50% of lessons for Years 7-9, rising to 66% for those pupils in exams groups. We preferred this to something like Teams as it enabled us to see a whole class at the same time, which was so important from a teaching, pastoral and safeguarding point of view. We were very aware that we didn’t want all lessons to be delivered via a screen for many reasons, so also made use of our own ‘virtual learning environment’ which enabled teachers to set interesting tasks and activities that could be completed away from computers. We followed our usual timetable and found that pupils could access our learning tools on a range of devices.
How does the programme differ for the youngest children?
Our Prep pupils have up to four live interactions a day with their teachers with specific drop-ins for maths and English. The Prep School staff have created a ‘Say Hello’ each morning, allowing children to greet each other and ask questions before lessons start…always helpful. We tried to be very creative with tasks and activities for our Pre-Prep pupils, recognising the difficulties for pupils to engage, and also for parents to supervise whilst many of them were still working. Children and parents also have access the ‘Help Hub’ should they hit a bump in the road. We decided early on not to stick too rigidly to a timetable for our non-live lessons; we were aware of families needing some flexibility on when learning was going to take place, considering access to potentially multiple devices and the need to take the dog for a walk!
How does this differ for children of key workers who might be in school?
Children of key worker children followed the same online timetable and also participated in the live streamed lessons. Teachers and teaching assistants supervised them in school and helped them to engage with their learning as a full member of their class. Where possible we also offered some physical education sessions during the day in order to keep those pupils fit and healthy.
How are you encouraging children to have ‘down time’, when in normal times down time is often screen-orientated?
This is something of a challenge and where the home/school partnership is crucial. We hope we communicate extremely well with our parents and pupils on this and offer some creative solutions to the problem through our extensive co-curricular programme.
How are you encouraging children to take exercise?
We have a daily workout delivered by our Sports Department – think Joe Wicks at Warminster! This changes daily and is supported by some ‘banging tunes’ courtesy of our very our radio station 1707 Radio. We also have various House competitions including pupils logging their exercise on Strava and competing for House points by completing various physical challenges.
What about other co-curricular activities? How are drama, art, music, DT studied online?
Here at Warminster we don’t consider these subjects to be ‘co-curricular’ but rather mainstays of our normal curriculum. Lessons in all these subjects have continued to be delivered online with some amazingly creative approaches to learning and virtual pupil development. In addition to actual lessons, our music department organised a virtual choir involving parents, staff, and pupils, as well as a host of recorded concerts. All individual instrumental lessons took place virtually as did our Speech and Drama lessons. We had a revolutionary audio play, using cutting edge technology from the National Theatre as well as online rehearsals for our next production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. We continued with our ‘Green Zone’ – Combined Cadet Force, Duke of Edinburgh and Ten Tors practice activities. We had House challenges for cooking, knitting, dancing, and art and continued awarding merits and commendations to all pupils for their contributions. We had bedtime stories, virtual band practice and drop-ins at different times of the day for our international pupils in different time zones. I could go on…
How is your pastoral care programme continuing while children are at home?
There is an opportunity for tutors to check in with pupils everyday with longer tutor periods on three days of the week. During these sessions, tutors can pick up on any issues and resolve them then and there or arrange to ‘meet’ that pupil later in the day via our safe video conferencing platform. Our House system is integral to our pastoral care and so Heads of House are actively checking and monitoring pupils at all times, through our robust praise and reward system as well as picking up on concerns logged by teachers.
What have you changed about this term’s online teaching compared to last summer term’s lockdown programme?
We have made tweaks rather than wholesale changes because we reviewed and improved our previous provision as we went along. We do have more live lessons as we feel pupils and staff can engage more easily with that way of teaching and learning than perhaps was the case when it was new methodology.
How do you create/continue a sense of community for the School during lockdown?
At the time of this interview we have delivered 48 virtual assemblies as well as a whole host of other films, a poignant Remembrance service, concerts, performances, and award presentations. We had a special series of four ‘stocking filler’ films in the run up to Christmas, which were interviews with a variety of staff – teaching and non-teaching – funny, moving, nostalgic, they gave an authentic insight into what makes us tick. Relationships are massively important; it is these sorts of initiatives that help to keep the community going and that goes for parents and staff, as well as pupils. We have a very active social media presence and constantly keep community messages and activities flowing on Twitter @Warminster1707 and through our Parent Association account @WSPA. We have found that our parents have also missed the contact with us and with each other, so we have very much tried to engage them in activities during both full lockdowns.
Do you have any tips to help parents keep their kids positive, bright and ready to learn?
We are lucky here at Warminster to have very supportive parents who take a real interest in their child’s education and I think that is key. I appreciate how hard it is if both parents are working, but taking an interest, asking questions and spending time together discussing school is so important. Clearly good routines and habits are also vital, such as making sure they have a suitable work environment, having regular breaks, eating well and having a good night’s sleep – all obvious stuff, but sometimes the obvious is overlooked when everyone is busy.
How do you make things fun???
Obviously, I would say that all Warminster lessons are fun, whether in normal times or during lockdown. Diversity is key and making sure that we give pupils a wide range of tasks and activities during each day. Our co-curricular offer, as described previously, helps to break things up and engage pupils in something different and enjoyable. We have nurtured some fantastic bakers and knitters over the last year and have enjoyed seeing our pupils share their exploits on Twitter. This sense of togetherness and celebration of the positives has been important during these difficult times.
How does an independent school like Warminster really come into its own in these difficult circumstances? What are you offering, above and beyond…?
An interesting question, particularly in terms of the idea of going ‘above and beyond’. In our recently published strategic plan we outline our mission as:
To develop and nurture rounded individuals with a love of learning and strong moral values, within a supportive and inspiring community.
This holds true whether we are physically in school or providing supported learning from home. Strong individual academic achievement is the central pillar of a Warminster education and this will always be the case. However, we firmly believe that what happens outside the classroom is just as important as what happens inside it if we are to develop rounded individuals. We always look to challenge and inspire our pupils through an extensive extra-curricular programme including a thriving sport programme, CCF and outdoor pursuits, as well as a formidable arts offer. We believe we provide exceptional pastoral care for all our pupils, in person and online.
For me all of this is very much part of a Warminster education at all times; it isn’t a case of going above and beyond, but merely keeping pace with our usual offer.
Want to find out more? Sign up for Warminster’s Virtual Open Day on 30 January 2021 .
“Warminster was one of the first schools in the South West to get to grips with virtual open days, online tours and parent meetings following the first lockdown – register online www.warminsterschool.org.uk to get involved in their virtual Open Day. A chance to take a look at a forward-thinking, energetic, fun and community spirited school in Wiltshire”