Dolphin School prides itself on being different. The school is renowned for going out on a vast number of trips each year, whether your child is in Nursery or in Year 8. Classes frequently leave the classroom to physically see or act out what they are learning about in the school grounds.
Our Freedom to Learn ethos is at the heart of everything we do. So when we had to close our gates on 20 March, I knew our teachers would go over and above to make it work. While others chose to wait and see what happened next, we swiftly settled on teaching via Microsoft Teams. Staff then set about practising lessons, meetings, and delivering academic content throughout the Easter break, so that we hit the ground running on 20 April when the summer term started.
Calls were made to children and families who were understandably anxious about what the future might hold, to check on their well-being. Trial lessons and mentor meetings were held to make sure teacher and student knew what was to come next. We then set about putting together a timetable that offered a sensible balance. This last word was key.
I was aware that other schools were taking a range of approaches including full timetables (some expected to attend online in school uniform – we don’t wear a uniform so that was an easy win!), no live lessons, set assignments but no feedback or interaction, or nothing at all. We needed to strike the right balance of some live lessons, some set assignments, but also some time for children to walk away from the computer, to read, to exercise or to go for a bike ride. Throughout this period, all children from Reception to Year 8 have had a number of live lessons each day, independent study lessons, feedback lessons in small groups, non-contact lessons, and PE. Additionally, we have offered form time in the morning and afternoon each day, and a mentor session once a week to keep an eye on the mental well-being of all our boys and girls.
There is no doubt that operating a school during the last few months has been a peculiar experience. Staff, children and parents have all had to come to grips with a new way of living, let alone a new way of learning. Staff needed to learn new skills and new ways to teach in an incredibly short space of time; children have had to self-motivate, self-organise and maintain focus whilst distanced from friends and teachers alike; and parents have had to see it all happening at point-blank range in the home, taking on the role of teacher, parent and friend during lessons, free time, and at every other moment of the day.
To say it has challenged and stretched everybody is an understatement. But it is not all bad news. Along the way, our pupils have had to learn some invaluable life skills that will serve them well for the future. And I am not just talking about their learning. In every sense, our boys and girls have faced and overcome a challenge, learned how to work remotely, meet deadlines, hand in assignments and stay motivated. All of this can serve them well in the future, whatever it may look like. I have consistently repeated this message in my online assemblies throughout this period: keep going; you are doing well; you should feel proud of what you have achieved; things will get better. And they have.
We re-opened our school gates to our Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children on Tuesday 2 June. My message to staff was that this final part of the year was not about the learning or the academic progress, but more about the happiness and social needs of our children. Clearly we would be having lessons and following curriculum plans, but this is not the priority. As they have throughout the period of closure, the Dolphin staff rose to the challenge.
Children have spent most of their time outdoors, whether for exercise, forest schools, looking at cloud formations, studying pond life and much more. Fresh air, time to relax back into school and friendships has been wonderful to witness in action. Those still learning at home have remained inspired through a diverse mix of project work, assignments, debates and live small group sessions. As a result of the atmosphere and teaching on offer, we have had five new pupils start since half term; some choosing to begin earlier than intended, some completely new to our books but looking for something positive for their children after months of uncertainty.
We are about to welcome back the remaining six-year groups over the next few weeks before the end of term, so that every child has had a chance to spend some time in school. Yes, we are aware of the dangers and share concerns about the current risk of Covid-19, but we have planned stringently to minimise risk, whilst ensuring the school is a warm and welcoming place. Children need school.
Of course, they need academic input, but far more importantly, they need an environment that feels safe. An environment that has a routine for them to follow. An environment where they can interact with and talk to peers, engage with adults outside of their family, and get back to enjoying simply being at school. In other words, something as close as possible to life as normal.
I could not have been more proud of our boys and girls over the past three months. The school staff have also demonstrated their unwavering passion for teaching. Our parents have supported their children tirelessly, whilst finding the time to email school and staff again and again to thank them for everything they have done and show their appreciation. The spirit shown by everyone in the Dolphin community has been wonderful.
Although there is still no telling how the next academic year will begin or what the school timetable may look like, I have every confidence that we will face it unflinchingly and find a positive way forward so that our children are learning in a safe, happy and nurturing environment.
Headmaster: Mr Adam Hurst.