How a Crisis Can Highlight an Independent School’s Strengths

William Brierly, headteacher of Claremont Fan Court School in Surrey, admits he approached lockdown with a sense of dread. But the co-educational independent school, which welcomes children aged two and a half to 18 years, saw significant success during the uncertain period. Here Brierly explains how he believes a crisis can reveal a school’s strengths…

Lead image courtesy Claremont School

How did you change your approach to teaching and learning as lockdown approached?
With a week to lockdown, the more technophobic had assumed they would simply email (or even mail) out work to be done and have it sent back, but in one week, we trained every teacher to use Google Classroom (where work is set and submitted using an online platform) and Google Meet (for face to face conference lessons).

How did you reassure parents and pupils about your approach?
We introduced a quality assurance process from day one, with senior colleagues, including myself, routinely calling the whole senior school parent body to help us evolve our approach. Initially, feedback from non-exam-year parents was cautious. Families were extremely worried for loved ones and there had only been one week of lockdown before the Easter holidays. They were worried lockdown would simply involve lots of work being set, and their feedback helped to underline the social contact their children were missing, which drove us to want to improve and evolve over the busy break.

What makes a school better prepared to face a crisis like this?
I believe there are schools that have had the resources and drive to provide ongoing interactive support for pupils and those that have not, and I am proud to feel we are in the first group. Pupil ratios are lower in an independent school, we afford more specialist teachers, our pupils and staff have laptops. These three factors have been key in our ability to be flexible. Also, as headmaster, it is at times of crisis that you most effectively see the strength, or otherwise, of the team of staff you work with. For me, their stoic determination to do the right thing for the children we teach has been the mark of our success.

What has been learned by the experience?
Online lessons have enabled parents to see what does happen in the classroom like never before. To have been able to recruit this term, in lockdown, more effectively than a few years ago when our doors were wide open, says a great deal about the importance of a great education in this changing world.

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