Our strength and resilience has shone through

Headteacher Mrs Paula Anderson reflects on the challenges created by Covid-19 on Bishop Challoner School, an all-through co-educational Catholic Independent establishment, and how the school has adjusted.

This article first appeared in Which School? 2021, which is available now in print and online.

During the unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bishop Challoner has risen to the challenge with a real sense of commitment and responsibility to ensure that we were able to adopt and implement a flexible learning approach; one that could be as effective as possible in the circumstances. The school is fortunate to have robust technology in place that has allowed us to interact with pupils and provide a learning platform across the whole age range of 3 to 18 years. When the announcement came that schools were likely to close in March 2020, the Senior Leadership Team began to put plans in place before the national lockdown had started. As a school we are forward thinking, highly organised and decisive to ensure that we are prepared for any crises that may arise.

Our staff have adapted amazingly well to online teaching, always seeking to ‘go the extra mile’ in order to maximise learning opportunities for our pupils. In the senior department, the introduction of Microsoft Teams has been used to provide quality remote learning and in the junior department, pupils have been using Purple Mash. The nursery has interacted superbly with the children and stayed connected using Tapestry which allowed photographs, videos and diary entries to be shared with parents.

During the period of lockdown, Bishop Challoner further demonstrated that it is a kind and caring community where everyone looks out for each other. ‘Community and Service’ is one of our Catholic Christian values at Bishop Challoner. In a time like this, our NHS frontline workers and care workers deserve our utmost praise for the essential roles that they continue to carry out amid putting themselves and their families at risk. Throughout the pandemic, we have stepped up to ensure that we cared for any vulnerable pupils and looked after the children of key workers during term time and in the holiday period.

Collaboration, teamwork and a strong sense of community spirit are important aspects of our school and certainly have been magnified during this time. Our Heads of Sections and School Counsellor have enabled strong pastoral support to continue and to ensure that all children feel supported. We have had well-being at the heart of all that we have done and introduced a Challoner Channel simply aimed at the pupils to support their mental health and emotions (https://www.bishopchallonerschool.com/information/newsletter).

A month before the lockdown, Bishop Challoner had a Diocesan Denominational Inspection, and the school was judged outstanding. It was reported that:

“Pupils benefit greatly from being part of this outstanding Catholic school where the pastoral care of the pupils lies at the heart of the work of the school. As a result, pupils feel safe, secure and happy in a family environment where each person is welcomed, valued, respected and cared for”.

I feel immensely proud of the way the pupils have acknowledged the significant changes. They have responded incredibly positively to the new ‘normal’ and learnt to be adaptable, flexible, show courage and resilience. The children have been using their initiative to develop a range of skills as well as being creative, curious and inquisitive. It has been wonderful to see how well the children have adapted to independent learning in their own spaces, ranging from learning British Sign Language, writing letters to support the lonely and making visors for care homes. This time away from the classroom has given the children the opportunity to explore and to develop their independent learning.

I too as Headteacher have had to adapt to the changes in technology and deliver online assemblies. This will become the expected way of delivering most of our assemblies until the situation changes.

I am proud to be the Head of Bishop Challoner and never have I been more proud than now, having seen so many generous acts of kindness, goodwill and professionalism from the whole school community and from my dedicated team of staff who pull together in true community style. The parent body at Bishop Challoner is amazing, highly supportive and keen to engage and one can never underestimate the huge sacrifices that parents make to send their children to our independent school and their faith in our Catholic Christian ethos, values and sense of purpose is so valued. Maintaining Bishop Challoner’s strong, supportive community spirit is one of our many strengths and the school has responded so well at a time when this pandemic dictates our daily lives.

The new meaningful technologies that we have harnessed and adopted at Bishop Challoner will, no doubt, continue to be used to enhance our teaching and learning.