Pupils have adapted incredibly well to all the new rules and rhythms of our ‘new normal’ School life, moving with ease from distance learning in the Summer Term to socially distanced learning back on campus.
After 25 weeks of Oakham’s campus feeling empty without pupils and staff being onsite, the rejuvenation of School life began in September when the community returned.
The School had spent a great deal of time and care over the summer putting rigorous measures in place to help keep all members of our community safe; our boarding and day pupils, our staff and all those who live and work in and around the town of Oakham. “The safety measures that we have established were even more wide-ranging than the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) COVID-Safe Charter that we, like other boarding schools across the country, have signed,” says Sarah Gomm, Deputy Head Pastoral.
Right from the beginning of term, and indeed before term began, there was a strict enforcement of all quarantine measures for boarders returning to the UK – with some boarders isolating on site before joining their peers. There were also ‘safe to return’ procedures for pupils and staff that saw daily temperature testing at the start of each day. As well as, of course, the establishing of pupil ‘bubbles’ – which saw year groups staying together to reduce pupil contact and enable track and trace, should it be needed.
Practically speaking, the School now looks a little different with a variety of well-signed one-way systems in place, along with 170 sanitising stations located around the campus. All pupils and staff were also issued with a pack of face coverings – in two different colours (black and red) to enable regular washing. These are now worn when everyone is moving around the corridors and campus during the school day.
As well as the variety of practical measures to keep the Oakham community safe, the School has carefully organised a ‘new normal’ curriculum. “We have a variety of timetables to ensure the stability of our educational provision and to help pupils to feel confident and ready to engage in their academic studies,” adds Mrs Gomm. “We want the School to feel as normal as possible, but recognise that there will be a variety of different scenarios that we could face. We therefore have three different timetables to ensure we can move and adapt should we need. There is our ‘normal’ timetable which sees all pupils moving freely about School, an enhanced social distancing timetable that reduces movement across campus and also enables any self-isolating pupils to continue their learning without interruption, and a distance learning timetable in the event of a local lockdown and schools are instructed to close.”
There are some aspects of School life that have been adapted to enable them to continue safely. Chapel services and assemblies are still a key part of the rhythm of the School week, albeit virtually. Dining has been altered to ensure pupil ‘bubbles’ don’t mix. Individual music lessons now take place face-to-face with transparent screens between teachers and pupils, whilst concerts are a combination of virtual and, where possible to enable an audience to be present, socially distanced. Drama sees pupils back with aplomb on the QET stage, with plays chosen and cleverly directed to reduce physical contact where possible. Sport has and continues to adapt according to government guidelines – meaning that Doncaster Close and all of Oakham’s pitches are alive with the sound of sport once more. Pupils perhaps need a little extra equipment in some subjects – with their own lab coats and art materials – but otherwise lessons are absolutely back to what is now called, the ‘new’ normal.
Most importantly of all, pupils have shown kindness and courtesy to each other and the Oakham community has remained together, even when at times, it needs to be safely socially distant.