30.08.20 - Ample Access to Outdoors Helps School Provide COVID Secure Teaching Spaces for September Return

Set in over 12 acres of rural Derbyshire countryside, Ockbrook School is making the most of its countryside setting as staff prepare for the return of pupils in September, with a focus on delivering parts of the curriculum via outdoor learning experiences.

The independent coeducational school welcomes children from three to 18 years of age across its Early Years, Primary and Secondary school provision. Planning for a September return started successfully during the summer term, with most Primary pupils and some Secondary students opting to return to school in line with the Government’s wider re-opening of schools in June.

Sue Worthington is Head of Primary at Ockbrook School. She explains: “The school continues to follow all Government guidelines and is deep in preparations for welcoming children back to school in September. As you’d expect, we are focused on providing a COVID secure environment for all of our school community. That includes a dynamic full risk assessment, which we revisit regularly and in accordance with Government guidance.

“In addition, we are further developing our ethos of outdoor learning, particularly with our younger children in Early Years and Primary. The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged us all to find new and innovative ways of working, which is exactly what our dedicated team of teaching professionals has done. We are privileged that the school is set in such a beautiful countryside location, which gives us ample space in which to take our classrooms outside.”

The school is planning to teach the full curriculum and take maximum opportunity of its extensive outdoor environment to teach lessons across the curriculum including Phonics, Spelling and Numeracy. The school’s expansive grounds will also be used for exploring the natural world, along with physical education and sports. 

On return in September, Early Years and Primary pupils will be accommodated in two independent, socially distanced learning ‘bubbles’. Early Years and Infant children will be taught in The Mount, whilst Junior pupils will learn in The Grange. Each bubble will have dedicated outdoor learning spaces to play, learn and thrive.

New teaching methods necessitated by lockdown will also continue to play a part in curriculum delivery. Helen Springall, Deputy Head at Ockbrook School, says: “Even before the current crisis hit, we deployed a comprehensive toolbox of online learning provision throughout the school. These include Microsoft Teams for older students and 2Simple’s ‘2Do’ tools for the younger children. 

“Students and staff are all technically proficient with the systems and we have built on these strengths, creating online learning programmes tailored to suit the very personal needs of individual students. In some cases, teaching videos were produced for just one pupil on a particular learning pathway within a group.”

During the summer term, the school setup a YouTube channel to host virtual teaching resources, with over 600 videos and more than 18,000 views. As well as teaching, assemblies, end of year transition events and virtual prize days were also made available in video form. 

Maintaining the school’s strong sense of community during lockdown was also a priority. Sue Worthington continues: “The importance of sharing family experiences at home through social media provided a continued sense of school community. We used a hashtag #OckbroookAtHome so that children and parents continued to feel connected.”

“We have learnt a huge amount in a short space of time”, concludes Helen Springall, “and although we are planning a full return to classrooms in September we are prepared for whatever circumstances may arise. 

“Staff, students and parents have responded magnificently to this unprecedented situation and our #OckbrookAtHome experience has shown that the spirit of the school can be tangible online, as well as on-site. Our social media hashtag #breathoffreshair is also reflective of the fact our school enjoys the benefits of its countryside location.”

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