While lockdowns and restrictions have proven challenging for Scotland’s schools, Fairview International headmaster David Hicks insists the pandemic has also inspired new ways of approaching the progressive learning experience at his school. By Nan Spowart

 

MANY lessons have been learned over the last 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic and one of them is the importance of schools – and not just for education.

With the buildings closed for months and pupils confined to their homes, the vital role schools play in the lives of children, parents and their communities has become starkly apparent.

Now, as society edges back to “normality”, educators are aware there is a need to make sure pupils’ mental health has not suffered and also build on the resilience and creativity both children and their teachers have shown during this severe disruption to their lives.

“It is important that we reflect on recent times and the impact of schools within communities, not only in their function as a place of academic learning but also as a social place for young people,” pointed out David Hicks, Head Teacher of Fairview International School, Bridge of Allan.

“We have also learned a lot about the importance of wellbeing and mindfulness and how schools can support youngsters and their families through times of challenge and anxiety. We, as a school, should be a safe space that students can come to and know they are looked after.”

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While the lockdowns and restrictions have been tough on most people, there are some positives that have surfaced during the pandemic, according to Mr Hicks.

He believes these should inform educational thinking going forward and could even show a way through the current discussions over how pupils should be assessed.

His school follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum, as they prepare for full authorisation which will enable their first cohort of senior pupils to prepare for the IB MYP certificate, instead of sitting for Nat 4 and Nat 5 assessments.

Here a broad range of subjects are assessed in an electronic format, either through portfolios or exams with students also being assessed on a project of their choosing. 

Mr Hicks maintains this makes the system more resilient to disruption and more suited to 21st century children. Assessments are externally validated.

“We have just come through a period where students were learning online and their technological skills are at a level like never before, so it seems almost backward thinking to me to return to the old paper based assessments as these were becoming outdated anyway,” said Mr Hicks.

“Even before the pandemic, the value of traditional pen and paper exams was being questioned and these assessments are a lot richer in terms of how students engage with them. 

“They are also much more resilient to the impact of change because they don’t need a controversial algorithm to decide a grade and they are not purely teacher-based or teacher-assessed which this year has caused some questions about grade inflation.

“The fact they can be done online means they are much more resilient to the impact of these challenges and are able to be assessed externally and moderated in that way. 

“It is about time, because technology has been a positive disruptor for education for decades but is only now being talked about in terms of assessment.”

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He added: “I think teachers and students showed a great deal of resilience, creativity and innovation during the restrictions and we don’t want to lose that and go back to how things were before.”

Building on this, Fairview’s vision is to continue to build a rigorous international-based curriculum that is innovative and focuses on developing skills for life, with particular emphasis placed on research, communication, self-management and social skills.

“These are all the skills that underpin what is needed to be successful beyond just academic results and we have deliberately mapped those out within our curriculum so that we can see a structure to develop them,” said Mr Hicks. 

“The skills needed by a five-year-old might be very different from those needed by a 15-year-old but we map that out as a continuum to see how we can build those skills year after year. We place as much emphasis on being caring and open-minded as being knowledgeable, a thinker, or a communicator and we make sure we consistently develop these skills within our students and not just focus on passing exams.”

The pandemic and recent international events have shown the importance of having a global outlook, which is what Fairview strives to offer. Every aspect of the curriculum is underpinned by a global focus so that, for example, pupils find out that what they are learning in maths connects with particular aspects of global innovation.

“We have a thematic approach to learning with a global context and try to build that throughout, so there is consistency and continuity as the pupils go through school from age five to 18,” said Mr Hicks. 

“The international curriculum, our focus on personalised wellbeing and soft skills as well as academics are our key vision statements going forward into the future.” 

www.fairviewinternational.uk    

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Fairview pupils get on board with outdoor learning

THERE has, undoubtedly, been concern in the minds of many parents, staff and pupils over the return to classrooms following the lockdowns.

This has, in part, led to a 60% increase in the role at Fairview International School where the small class sizes, spacious environments and woodland settings are seen as a safe place to teach and learn.

“One of the biggest advantages we have coming out of the pandemic has been our class sizes because we have groups of no more than 12 students per class,” said Head Teacher David Hicks. 

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Fairview’s location in scenic Bridge of Allan allows pupils to collaborate effectively while also maintaining an appropriate distance from each other

 

“Students are still able to collaborate effectively but also able to move around the spaces we have while maintaining appropriate, safe practice. That means it doesn’t seem manufactured; it is just the natural advantage of having space and small numbers.

“In addition we have a very personalised approach to students and go above and beyond in providing support for them, whether they are academic or need additional language support or are anxious about returning to school. 

“We have direct communication with parents, we know every student individually and we sit down as a team and review the progress and challenges of each one. We check everything is going well for them and we intervene swiftly if there is any concern. 

“That intervention and support is there for the most able as well as those who might go unnoticed in a traditional school.  

“Even as head teacher I have an informal conversation with every child on a weekly basis and that is also followed up by my staff, so there is a great deal of interaction with them and parents appreciate the personalised approach we offer.”

Now going into its third year, the school is able to open up its boarding facility properly to international students and those from within the UK. 

“The slight difference to many boarding schools is that we want that boarding facility to have a strong community service element so that we are a school connected to and within our local community and not set apart from it,” said Mr Hicks.  

“Our boarding facility is in the heart of the village so we are connected to it physically in a way that makes us different to many other independent schools. 

“We anticipate the launch of our boarding facility with excitement as one of our main priorities for the year ahead. 

“Exciting times lie ahead for us and the wider education community as we look forward as well as learning from our recent past.”