How Sheffield High School for Girls Continue to Thrive in Lockdown | Living North

How Sheffield High School for Girls Continue to Thrive in Lockdown

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Sheffield High School for Girls
We catch up with Christepher Hald, Head of Infant and Junior School at Sheffield High School for Girls, to find out how they are continuing to shape futures in hard times

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Explain your on-going approach to guided home-learning.  
Through both lockdowns we have provided in-school learning for the children of keyworkers enabling many of our parents to continue to provide vital services, assured that their children are continuing with their education. The remainder of our children have accessed Guided Home Learning (GHL) online. This has continued to be engaging and stimulating, with the class groups connecting with their teachers to learn and collaborate. Knowing that with Infant and Junior School aged children there will need to be more input from parents at home, we have adapted the format of our usual timetable to provide as much flexibility as possible. Lessons are delivered in three types: live lessons where the teachers are online teaching in real-time, and small group activities can take place in break-out groups; recorded sessions where teachers record their teaching allowing for children to pause, rewind and replay sessions; and set activities through which we encourage independent learning and development, with work submitted afterwards for assessment. With this three-pronged approach we can focus on maintaining academic achievement, monitor the girls’ wellbeing, encourage time away from the screen to complete practical tasks and offer parents the flexibility they need in the current circumstances.  

I am really proud of what our teachers are providing through GHL. We continue to develop the girls’ learning in core areas through daily Maths and English lessons as well as offering weekly Science and Humanities sessions and our specialist provision in PE, Music and MFL. Equally supporting positive pupil mental health and well-being is pivotal to the way we continue to design our online education. Dedicated pastoral time allows for the teachers and children to connect and have social time, share their feelings and any concerns and maintain the bond our teachers have worked to establish with their class groups prior to lockdown. We care enormously for our girls, as always, but in particular during these different and challenging times.

What challenges have the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns caused learning and teaching?
The main challenge of lockdown and switching to Guided Home Learning is that our pupils are online, in front of a screen, and not in front of the teachers. We have all adapted so very quickly to this new way of delivering and accessing the learning, and with great success. The girls are making progress and positive in-roads to their learning, and we keep a very close eye on all of them, academically and pastorally. However, I am concerned about them missing other aspects of school life which happen both in and out of the classroom. What do we do when we can’t rely on the social and personal interactions which normally happen naturally in class? We have a long-standing commitment to Growth Mindset (based around the work of Carol Dwerk) within the school, and the girls are au-fait with our 5 R’s. They understand and apply these to their learning, even online and are showing us that they continue to be Risk-takers, Reciprocal, Resourceful, Reflective and above all Resilient in their learning. More recently, we introduced the Positive Project across the school (based on the work of Dr Brian Marien of the Positive Group) which helps the girls to understand and articulate their feelings and emotions. Coupled with our PHSE programme these two initiatives are continuing during our online learning, and genuinely supporting the girls’ well-being and allowing them to connect during lockdown.  

Another aspect of school life affected by lockdown is the reduction in co-curricular provision. We pride ourselves on having a range of lunchtime and afterschool clubs and activities happening in all year groups throughout the week. These focus on all types of sports, as well as music ensembles, WER robotics, Eco and Gardening Club and many more. We’ve had to halt much of this due to the pandemic, although we continue to offer what we can remotely and the girls are continuing with their online enrichment programmes. Drawing from available resources online the girls can go to the ballet or take in an opera (English Touring Opera production), as well as download fitness cards, science activities or even attend cookery sessions (recorded by me and my Deputy). Many of the girls are taking up these opportunities and sharing their own creations with their class teachers.  

What are the benefits of small class sizes, specialist teachers and single sex education, and how has that helped you cope with these challenges?
The smaller class sizes within the school do enable the teachers to focus on the children in a very individual way, making certain that their learning is progressing, that any misconceptions or misunderstandings are corrected, and that we can monitor their wellbeing. Often following class group session, teachers will continue to meet with children online to reiterate or reinforce learning – as well as stretching those who will benefit from it. We are using a variety of platforms within lessons so that feedback remains individually focused and teachers can connect with parents as well as pupils, acknowledging their essential support with girls’ learning from home. I genuinely believe that our relationship with our parents has been positively strengthened during this time.  

Our specialist teachers in MFL, Music and PE are continuing with their live lessons and add so much to the curriculum offer. Biased as I may be, having worked in the primary sector for 30 years, I feel that the foundations of learning, including the all-important development of skills for learning, are set firmly in the Infant and Junior School years. Quality first teaching which engages, enthuses and challenges learners is core to what Sheffield Girls’ does, and this includes having our specialists as part of the team, and their sessions as part of the offer.  

As part of the GDST we remain very committed to our ethos of giving our girls the best of opportunities. We define this as teaching her everything so she can be anything. Our pedagogy, the methods of teaching and learning, draws on current research that explores and focuses specifically on single-sex education. We actively promote strong female role models from all disciplines and throughout history, and the girls really enjoy our celebrations of International Women’s Day, the School’s Birthday and International Day of the Girl. The girls benefit from not being exposed to early-learned gender stereotypes, and develop their knowledge and skills in environment where they are encouraged to pursue their passions, whatever they might be. The founders of our school were four determined women who give their names to our four Houses – so the girls are very aware of the origins of the GDST. 

Talk to us about the specialist facilities you offer and the co-curricular offerings. What are the benefits of these?
We feel very fortunate to have some super facilities in the Infant and Junior School. Aside from our classroom spaces, which all benefit from touchscreen boards and banks of chromebooks (each one of our girls from Year 1 upwards has an individual device for use in school), we have specialist rooms that are timetabled for use throughout the week. These include our Science Zone; where the girls all undertake practical lessons, a huge focus of our Science curriculum, the STEM Hive which houses our WER robots as well as loads of Lego and other design and building resources, and adjacent to this, the Art Studio which is a space where the girls do all types of creative work – painting, print-making, felting and clay work to name some.  In our other building we have our Music Suite which has a specialist classroom with musical instruments and equipment for performance as well as practice, and breakout rooms for our team of peripatetic teachers to do individual music tuition.  

We also have a library, staffed by a librarian and each class have Library lessons as part of their weekly timetable. The librarian is amazing with her recommendations of reading materials and is always encouraging the girls to widen their reading options. She runs reading challenges and has continued to provide sessions online, reading to the girls and talking all about books and what they are reading in lockdown. Her online pages are accessible to parents too, giving helpful tips about reading with your child and book lists of age-appropriate titles.  

In addition, our PE team have the specialist facilities of the hall and outdoor spaces to teach games, as well as dance, balance and movement. We are very fortunate to have the Senior School sports facilities across the road and often use the main gym, dance studio and the gymnastics and trampolining centre for the girls PE lessons and afterschool sessions. Currently the PE team are continuing with a host of live and recorded sessions encouraging the girls to move and keep active, fulfilling our commitment to being a healthy school.  

You’re a UK leader for teaching in robotics at such a young age. What does that mean for your pupils?
We were named the National Primary Hub for WER robotics following our engagement with robotics and Discovery STEM Education’s lead Dr Melissa Butt.  A key part of developing the girls’ technological skills for their futures, through our Fusion Curriculum, relies on us exploring the latest technology and innovations. What started as a co-curricular club has gained momentum and a group of enthusiastic teachers have spearheaded adding robotics to the curriculum. In line with the aims of our Fusion Curriculum, robotics develops the girls’ skills in critical and analytical thinking, problem solving and gets them to work collaboratively. As well as part of our own curriculum and co-curricular offer, the teachers have been able to do outreach with local primary school, training teachers and sharing equipment so that other schools can develop their pupils’ robotic skills. This has continued into lockdown with two of my teachers, Lucy Williams and Dawn Pooley, creating an online training package for teacher to access, and use with their own pupils. The school has continued to participate in a research project with Sheffield University, alongside Discovery STEM Education to develop MiroCODE for UK schools, findings of which will be presented to the Department for Education in 2021.  

Tell us more about your ‘Fusion’ curriculum. 
Our teachers firmly believe that learning becomes meaningful when it is memorable, and memories are made through experiences. I feel that the experiences gained in the primary years of education are vital to laying firm foundations for academic advancement and the formation of a lifelong love of learning. From the day the girls join us, every pupil is expected to play an active role in our learning community and to make the most of the wide range of opportunities on offer. Our curriculum aims to produce accomplished learners who have a thirst for knowledge, passion for learning and an insatiable curiosity.  

We believe in putting girls first and that in order to do this we must provide the girls with a curriculum that carefully blends both traditional academic rigour with modern skills, values and the development of key competencies that will allow our girls to become the best they can possibly be.  

Three years into my Headship at Sheffield Girls’ Infant and Junior School, I felt it was time to have a curriculum review. Drawing together the opinions and perspectives of all staff, we created a curriculum which was linked to current educational and scientific research, and drew upon and harnessed the energy of the pupils, teachers, parents and the learning environment.  We wanted to maintain the provision and consolidation of essential educational knowledge and knowledge-based skills, as well as connect with our Growth Mindset and Positive Project initiatives, to develop transferable skills and create mastery and critical thinking. All of these characteristics are layered and connected within the subject areas bringing connectivity, creativity and innovation, into one ’Fusion’ curriculum, with an almost atomic structure, which bursts with energy – I’m a science graduate! 

Our Fusion Curriculum has the school values at its core. It builds on the dynamics of kindness, courage and positivity, and perfects key aspirational competencies which in turn create sources of cognitive, metacognitive and expressive energy. The curriculum builds positive character attributes in the children, shaping their individual approach to life and developing their transferable life skills such as communication, self-awareness and critical thinking. As a result we benefit from an energised, connected and innovative academic environment of unrivalled quality, rich in experiences tailored to the needs, interests and ambitions of our incredible girls. 

Why is having in-school mentoring schemes so important?
Every member of the School community is expected to embrace the shool values of kindness, positivity and courage, and actively show them in our word and deeds. Our buddy scheme for new pupils provides a soft peer-led introduction to their classroom and the wider surroundings of the school. As the girls progress through the year groups, our big sister scheme is important in sharing a sense of responsibility as our Year 6 girls connect with and mentor the incoming reception class.

What are your hopes for the school's future in education?
We have a very strong team of excellent teachers, learning assistants and support staff at Sheffield Girls’ Infant and Junior School and it’s never been so evident as it has over the past year. The way teachers have adapted to deliver online learning, their flexibility to changes circumstances and requirements and their continuous commitment to the well-being and academic progression of the girls all speaks volumes to the skills and tenacity of the team. 

I am confident that our school will continue to grow and cement its position as the best primary provision in Sheffield.  Our Fusion Curriculum and school ethos certainly sets the tone for the school’s future in education. We want our pupils to acquire life skills, and be valued as individuals who can think, learn, express and cope both independently and collaboratively, and who will be the leaders, innovators and game-changers of the future. In addition, we want our pupils to be inclusive and broad minded, so they leave the school not in a bubble of privilege and elitism, but with the ability to engage with their local, national and international communities, and with a burning desire to do good in the world. Learning as an exciting journey, filled with discovery, discussion and fun, fostering curiosity, appreciation and creativity, that spills out beyond the classroom.  

Published in: January 2021

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