We speak to Christine Cunniffe, principal at LVS Ascot in Berkshire, about a year like no other
Before we begin, could you give us a brief overview of the school…
LVS Ascot is an all-ability, independent day and boarding school for boys and girls, aged 4 to 18. Our engaging teaching and co-curricular activities are designed to inspire children to exceed their expectations and become independent adults.
Considering it’s pretty much a year to the day since the first lockdown came in, have you ever experienced a period of time like this in education?
No definitely not – this is something I don’t think any headteacher would ever have contemplated, never mind experienced. There are no headteacher manuals that say on ‘page 441’ you will find guidance on how to run a school in the event of a pandemic. To say this period of time has been extraordinary is an understatement – a time for true leadership and rising to the ever-varying challenges.
How did LVS Ascot cope with previous lockdowns?
We really hit the ground running in March 2020. Luckily, we had already embarked on a blended learning journey, so the technology was in place. The lockdown merely accelerated this process and within a few days, we were delivering over 2,000 online lessons a week. Our staff were amazing in adapting so quickly, delivering not only academic lessons, but well-being support and a plethora of co-curricular activities. We listened to parents and pupils throughout and changed and adapted our delivery in response to their feedback and experiences of lockdown, whether that was too much work or too much screen time.
How did things work with boarders?
We were able to provide continuity of education for all our pupils, whether in the UK or overseas. Our lessons were delivered live on Microsoft Teams and recorded for those living in different time zones. Although not all boarders were on site, the boarding staff have continued to provide evening entertainment in the form of challenges, games, quizzes and fun PT sessions, streamed live from our theatre and the boarding family have kept in close contact with each other throughout lockdowns.
Did your pupils surprise you in any way?
The level of engagement was, and continues to be, fantastic and quite overwhelming. We have set pupils and parents a number of challenges and projects throughout the year such as interviewing grandparents, telling war stories, writing poems and drawing pictures to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Pupils have also been sending in musical performances and drama recitals and we’ve held artwork challenges, food bank collections and quizzes to keep everyone motivated. So far, we have raised over £3,000 for NHS Charities Together. It’s been an excellent effort on the part of the whole community to keep everyone smiling and working together.
Was there much to get into place before all pupils were allowed back to LVS Ascot on 8 March?
Not a great deal because we had worked out the logistics for mass lateral flow testing over the Christmas holidays, anticipating a normal return to the spring term. Staff rallied to train as swabbers, processors and recorders and the whole school pulled together to be ready to hit the ground running on 8 March. The classrooms were still in their socially distanced 2020 layouts and returning after lockdown was not such a big issue as it was back in September. COVID measures are now part of everyday life. It just shows you how resilient pupils and staff can be.
Senior schools have been tasked with conducting COVID-19 tests, but not junior/infant schools, so how has this worked at LVS Ascot considering you look after 4-18 year olds?
The two elements of the school are in separate buildings on the same site. Currently our infant/junior school pupils do not mix with the senior school pupils and stay within their ‘bubbles’.
We continue to follow Government guidance, undertaking testing for senior pupils as directed, and all staff across the infant junior and senior schools are being tested twice a week.
Is the whole school community pleased to be back?
Absolutely! I believe that school is the best place for children. We are now well into our second week back and it’s wonderful to feel the school come alive again. It is lovely to hear the children laughing, running around outside and enjoying being back together.
What are your hopes for the rest of the year?
The pandemic has brought many surprises, turnarounds and unexpected events. My hope is that our exam pupils transition to the next stage of their education as seamlessly as possible and that the school is able to gradually and safely return to a full school programme including prizegiving, sports day, Year 11 summer ball and Year 13 leavers’ event at the end of the academic year, allowing everyone to enjoy those rites of passage that were denied in 2020.