Despite all schools being closed for the foreseeable future, a part of our school has continued to be open.
The Junior School has been providing essential care for the children of Key Workers since our country went into Lockdown. Along with my Pre-Prep colleagues and staff from across the Foundation, I have been going in to help provide cover for those pupils and here is a snapshot of what our ‘new normal’ school day looks like for the youngest pupils in Highgate School.
Arriving for my first day at school, I walk along Bishopswood Road where I give a nod to the, for now, silent Pre-Prep building. I move on to the Mills Centre where I am delighted to get a wave from Cosy: always a highlight, but never more needed than now!
On entering the Junior School, the first face I see is Mark James. Mark has been a constant and reassuring presence throughout the Key Worker provision along with other members of the senior team.
The day begins with registering the pupils and sorting out the lunch order. The kitchens have been open throughout the lockdown and are still providing superb lunches, albeit a cut down picnic lunch version. It’s comforting to see the familiar faces of Rupert and Jamie when they drop off our surprisingly complicated lunches – 10+ sandwich filling choices to choose from, but did you ask for that with/without salad or with/without butter?? And this is for only a small group of children. My mind boggles at what the kitchens must provide for us all on a regular basis in term time.
Before their lessons begin the children play outside and whilst it’s true that the Junior School corridors don’t resound with the clattering footsteps of as many children as usual, the 30 or so children who are coming in still manage to make a reassuringly loud noise!
Accessing the online learning platform is now a simple task of a couple of clicks, but in the early days we saw rather more of the IT staff than they would have wanted. After some head scratching, checking and fine tuning, they got the service up and running so that these pupils could access the live Zoom lesson provision and re-establish much needed contact with their teachers and their peers.
It is very odd to see the children plugged in for their lessons and is diametrically opposite to the Pre-Prep teaching environment I’m used to being a part of. The classroom emits a quiet hum punctuated only by a 6 year old loudly answering a question that we can’t hear; the assumption being that raising their voice will somehow shorten the distance between them and their teacher. During this unusual school day, break times are especially important, as the children need time away from the screens and time to process what they have learnt before they start their next session.
Lunch is a relaxed affair often eaten in the classroom and then outside for some fresh air and we are thankful that the weather has been extremely kind to us and we can spend all of our free time outdoors.
The children I am caring for are from across the PP – nursery to year 2 -and this little group has become a cohesive unit learning, playing and eating together just as they would normally do in their own classes. The rota of staff means that they don’t have the same people working with them each day but the children have adapted extremely well and there is a tacit acceptance that although “this” is different, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. The afternoons are for fun lessons and we also allow the children the space to just read or quietly draw and colour. Having different staff in school each day means that there are SpEx, Art, DT specialists to keep them occupied and, tempting though it is (and no matter how hard they plead!) we try not to let them play computer games, as we all agree that they have had more than enough screen time. The school day ends with listening to a story chosen from the wide variety of readings recorded by the Pre-Prep staff or we watch a school assembly uploaded by Mrs Hecht, our Head.
Following the usual routines and rhythms of school life, albeit loosely, helps to keep a sense of the familiar which we hope will be beneficial to aid their, and our, return to full time school. Providing this mini ‘school within a school’ care enables our Key Worker parents to fully commit to their vital jobs in this extraordinary time.
Lorraine Wells works in the Pre-Prep as a Teaching Assistant. She works with our youngest pupils in year 2 but also leads the Whittington Hospital Visits TAA for years 10-13. She enjoys Pilates, reading and walking but not at the same time as she is far too clumsy.