Westbourne has supported students both academically and personally at the highest level throughout lockdown and now during their return to the physical classroom. The school extended the spring term for all Prep School students to allow its youngest learners extra time to re-establish social bonds back in the physical classroom, and implemented a number of additional initiatives to encourage pupils to flourish during the pandemic.
The launch of Westbourne Online, March 2020
With a Director of Online Education in place from November 2019 as part of the wider group development, Westbourne was in a unique position to move seamlessly to a full online offering from Day 1 of the nationwide school closures. Therefore, the start of their 125th anniversary year saw Westbourne Online in full flow. With older students (Year 3- Year 13) supported via Google Classroom and younger ones (Nursery- Year 2) through SeeSaw they were able to provide rigorous online learning for all ages, including classroom teaching, group learning sessions, and wellbeing sessions (including sport, wellness and creative activities) throughout lockdown.
In March 2020, they integrated Century Tech as part of Westbourne Online. Century is a groundbreaking online learning platform, backed by AI and the latest thinking in neuroscience and learning science.
Working alongside the personalised academic support available via Google Classroom, Century provided students from Year 3- 11 with limitless opportunities to extend their learning in English, Maths and the Sciences, all with full teacher support. They were only one of five schools in South Wales to be using AI-assisted learning.
“When we found out we were going to be working from home the teachers got us all on Google Classroom and they each gave us a taster of the work we would be doing, going forward. It was very, very easy actually to adjust! We got just as much work done as we usually would in our normal lessons.” George, Year 7
Unparalleled pastoral support during lockdown
Westbourne initiated regular contact between teachers and students throughout lockdown to offer guidance and support to all students, both academic and personal. Students have reported how much they enjoyed the online learning experience as a result of still feeling closely connected to the school and their teachers. This support extended to parents/guardians also, with the same level of open door access available via online parents evenings and 1-2-1 Zoom catch up sessions.
Unlike many boarding schools who send students to external guardians, Westbourne’s unique guardianship arrangement ensured the continuity of care within the boarding house, or existing host families, throughout the initial stages of the pandemic. Facilities remained open throughout lockdown for those students who were not able to get flights home due to the pandemic- testament to the school’s nurturing character and the closeness of the Westbourne school community. This was a source of great comfort to those students who were worried about where they would live or who they would turn to for emotional support during a highly sensitive, worrying time when many of them were also preparing for exams.
As a boarding house student, I was also initially concerned about how boarding was going to function under this difficult time and especially during lockdown. However, when arriving in September, I was quickly comforted by the boarding house’s welcoming and supportive atmosphere and was pleased to realise that our boarding parent’s (Ms Jannette’s) friendly and caring approach remained, even during these tough times.” Matous, IB1 Boarder
Other boarding schools tended to direct their international boarders to guardians- typically arranged through an agency and at a significant additional cost to the student- essentially meaning that strangers would be caring for these young and potentially vulnerable young people at a very difficult time.
The importance of personalised learning
Westbourne offers personalised learning programmes for every student, which they are using to support new and existing students as they return to the physical classroom. They are not aware of any other schools offering this level of personalised learning support locally.
Designed on a bespoke basis in conjunction with the student and their parent/guardian, these programmes exemplify Westbourne’s commitment to the importance of small classes, individualised learning and one-to-one attention from staff.
The programme aims to identify the skills students have gained in lockdown, including any gaps in their knowledge, and set out measures to support, accelerate and build on this learning back at school. They enable the student to catch-up and ultimately thrive back at school again.
“I would praise the engagement of the teachers and the overall attitude. Also, the fact that children produce a lot of research-based work. I see a big difference in the way children are motivated. The teachers are very motivated so this is impacting their students a lot and I’m very happy with that.” Renata, parent of 3 students in Prep/Senior school
Accelerated learning to enhance the classroom learning experience
Westbourne is a strong advocate of “accelerated learning” once back in the classroom- this entails using the new skills and innovative teaching methods gained during lockdown and applying them to the physical classroom setting, so enhancing classroom learning with new technologies and approaches.
Early this year, they introduced the Century learning platform to the school. Century is a learning platform that has mini-lessons for students to use to improve their understanding of topics taught in class. The system uses artificial intelligence to recommend the best next mini-lesson to enhance the students’ understanding of the topic. If a student seems to be struggling with a topic, it will identify the reason for the misunderstanding and recommend mini-lessons to help the student fill their gaps in understanding. It can even do this in a cross-curricular sense. For example, suggesting English mini-lessons if a student’s misunderstanding of a maths problem is based on a comprehension error. Conversely it can also recognised when a student needs to be pushed, recommending topics and material to stretch and challenge them.
They have found that students really like the system. Even in the last week with most of the school being on holiday, students across the school have answered over 5000 questions in the system. Since term began students have answered over 100,000 questions! Students enjoy the fact that they get instant feedback when they answer questions and are able to revisit material as often as they like. They can also see what they have covered, or to consider next to extend their learning in a subject. It give them some control over their learning.
Principal, Dr Gerard Griffiths, comments of accelerated learning:
“While lockdown has thrown challenges at us all, it has been a time of great advancement in online and remote learning. Students have been encourage to approach learning in new ways and have developed different skills.”
“We have an incredible opportunity to elevate classroom education using the latest technology, teaching and assessment methods.”
“By combining the very best of online study with face-to-face teaching, children can be more confident, independent learners. Assessments can be handled in anytime. They can download their work to complete at home. They know how to access school resources from anywhere.”
“Our pupils are now so dexterous and adaptable, alert to the power of education, that their return to school is a route to supporting them to achieve even more. And that’s an exciting objective.”