Focusing on the children: the benefits of an independent school and the support they can provide
PUBLISHED: 15:04 20 August 2020
Schools anxious about returning in September will find resourceful ways of managing, according to Jo Smith, headteacher at Danesfield Manor School.
The co-ed independent school, which is set in Walton-on-Thames and is part of the Education Development Trust, overcame the challenges of lockdown to ensure seamless teaching.
“We are a small school (with a big personality!) for children aged two to 11, and are known for being nurturing,” Mrs Smith explains.
“Because of our size we are able to focus on all our children – and we found ways to continue teaching and to get everyone back into school safely.
“Now we have absolutely no anxieties about September and we want to inculcate a sense of confidence in other teachers elsewhere.
“We want to tell them it will be hard but not to worry because they will find ingenious ways of coping.”
An individual education
With approximately 130 pupils, the prep school describes itself as “warm natured.”
“We are not a hot house and I am proud that,” Mrs Smith admits.
“We care for the children as individuals and help and support each one, particularly when they are going through the transition to senior school.
“Our job is to prepare them so they will continue to be happy and to flourish as they have done with us.”
It is this emphasis on individual wellbeing and communication that has served them so well during the past few months, she insists.
“We know all our children and their parents. We are small enough – and will remain small enough – to have regular contact with everyone.”
Throughout lockdown, regular meetings were held with staff and some classes were taught via Zoom; pupils used apps and work was sent in for marking.
“The children, even the very little ones, would speak on screen – this was essential in developing their speaking and listening skills,” she adds.
“I kept asking everyone in our community: ‘what’s working well and what can we do even better?’ and they would tell me.”
Prepping for the future
The independent school’s small class sizes allowed every year group to return from mid-June.
The reliance on technology was a learning experience for everyone, especially the children, all of whom have grown in confidence.
“We are prepping them for the workplaces of the future by teaching them these skills,” she admits.
“Now the trust has bought laptops for all children in years three to six – and we are ready if there are other lockdowns.”
Balancing the increased emphasis on IT with more outdoor learning, Mrs Smith believes the private school could not be more prepared for the new school year.
“We are calm, and we are ready,” she adds.
“The children have shown us how resilient they are, and we want to keep developing that as we move forward together as a school.”