Supporting prep and primary schools through the pandemic

Director of Admissions, Mrs Tara Reeve explains how Downe House has been providing prep and primary schools with virtual lectures, dance sessions, drama lessons as well as sharing best teaching practice and EdTech experience.

Nurturing relationships with our feeder schools and supporting prep and primary schools through the pandemic  has never been more important than during lockdown. Being unable to physically visit the Headteachers, staff and pupils at over one hundred preparatory and local primary schools has meant, like many other aspects of School life, that we have had think creatively about reaching out to these schools and being innovative in our approach to interacting with them. These relationships with Headteachers, their staff and pupils are important to us and it has always been our aim, with our programme of workshops and experience days, to share the expertise of our wonderfully talented staff and support these schools in complementing their curriculum.

If there is one thing that lockdown has highlighted, it is just how, in a crisis, schools work brilliantly together, supporting each other in the development of best practice and sharing expertise. Here at Downe House, our Director of Information Systems, Mr David McClymont has led several online events, supporting and helping to direct other schools with their implementation of technology in the classroom. David, who has led Downe House to become a Microsoft Showcase School, is passionate about sharing our experience of classroom technology to help others lead in the same field. David was a keynote speaker at the 2021 Schoolscape Summit, exploring EdTech solutions with other IT specialists from across the sector.

At another level, our teachers in the classroom have also been keen to share best digital teaching practice with other schools, particularly with our feeder schools. Our Director of Music, Dr Charlotte Exon, recently led a session addressing the challenges of delivering individual music lessons and conducting choirs and orchestras virtually and under current constraints. While this provided a fantastic networking experience, it was also an opportunity for us all to learn from our prep school colleagues and incorporate new ideas into our daily practice. We have recently organised a TeachMeet for Prep Schools will be led by our Director of Digital Learning, Mrs Jane Basnett.

The lockdown has also enabled us to take advantage of the virtual platform to invite more feeder schools than we could usually accommodate to take part in our evening lecture series. These talks have been delivered as Microsoft Teams Live Events, allowing limitless numbers of pupils to participate. Most recently, we have enjoyed talks from the former English rugby union coach, Stuart Lancaster, the award-winning children’s author, Karen McCombie, former GB and England number one badminton player, Fontaine Wright and open water swimmer, Joanne Jones. Over 300 pupils from over 30 schools have taken part in these talks and taken inspiration from these truly remarkable speakers.

We have also been able to continue to provide more bespoke offerings to our feeder schools, by joining them on their virtual platforms. Dr Andy Atherton, our Director of Research and Academic Enrichment spoke to 100 pupils and their families at Old Buckenham Hall on Scrolls and Tablets – a World before Books as part of their lockdown lecture series. Our Drama and Dance department delivered a programme of workshops and live dance sessions (led by the wonderfully energetic and inspiring Miss Liv Ward) on Wednesday mornings in the Lent term to 14 feeder schools. These sessions have not only been fantastic opportunities for our staff, but they have also given opportunities to our own Downe House pupils to develop their leadership skills and collaborate with younger and hopefully prospective, pupils. Our Assistant Director of Sport, Miss Charlotte Williams organised an innovative session with Orchard House, using our U15A lacrosse team, to lead a virtual workout with the younger children. This successful initiative is one we plan to repeat with other schools.

There is no doubt that the last 12 months have forced us to be more creative than we could have ever imagined and there have been some wonderful initiatives which we will want to continue in a virtual format, even when lockdown has ended. A huge thank you must go out to Audio Visual teams in schools across the country who have upskilled and delivered the most incredible content so professionally and resourcefully. I know at Downe House, none of the events mentioned here would have been possible without out Production and Technical Manager, Mr Alex Boswell and his team who have gone above and beyond and delivered exceptional content.

We are not finished yet however! We would like to finish this extraordinary school year with a celebration, if you like, of all things virtual. In the Summer term, we are planning what we hope will be the UK’s biggest ‘Move-a-thon’ for our feeder schools to raise money for charity. In a bid to get as many young pupils offline and moving together, our sports staff will be leading a virtual workout with an Olympic theme. Watch this space.

Find out more about all the events and activities we can provide for feeder schools here

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The best way to find out more about Downe House is to experience it for yourself. Book a personal tour or join us at one of our Open Mornings, available throughout the year.

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