Online teaching should only be used when there is a genuine benefit for pupils, a leading headteacher said today.
Keith Metcalfe, headmaster at Malvern College, said online teaching had been invaluable during lockdown, but it’s long-term use should be avoided.
It comes after university regulator the Office for Students said student views had to be taken into account when deciding how much to teach online.
Mr Metcalfe said: “It is really important for a school to have a coherent message and that can only really be achieved with the whole school in school, and with face-to-face communication.
“We coped very well last year with our pupils not being in the classroom, but relationships are an extremely important part of teaching. It’s about pupils interacting with the teaching staff and also with each other, which just isn’t possible to the same level online.
“A school like Malvern offers much more than just what goes on in the classroom. You can’t beat the experience of being on the sports pitch together or performing together, in terms of the core and transferable skills that each child learns. Our Boarding Houses are another key part of the Malvern experience. They become like an extended family, with in-House dining and shared evening activities – they are where you learn to build strong relationships and develop a support network. You can’t replicate that online.”
Mr Metcalfe said the school had taken a ‘cautious approach’ to the first two weeks back at school and would be keeping a careful eye on government guidelines.
“We are testing pupils regularly and we have our own PCR machine on campus,” he said. “Pupils are currently wearing face coverings in certain settings, although not in lessons or the boarding houses. We can quickly step up or step down measures as required.”
The school is also keeping in place some of the measures it introduced last year to cope with the pandemic.
“We have a range of activities at weekends and during last year we moved many of these outdoors. The pupils really enjoyed it, so we will be doing more of that.
“But last year there were also certain restrictions on extracurricular activities, which have now been lifted so we can return towards normality this year. It has been excellent to see a full chapel and to hear hymns again, albeit with face coverings. We can bring back more of our music and drama programme and we are very much looking forward to performances again. We are risk-assessing them and, where we can, we will move events outside.”
Mr Metcalfe believes the way Malvern has coped with the pandemic is partly responsible for a rise in interest from parents wanting their children to attend the school.
“We are delighted to have all of our pupils back in school and have a waiting list for pupils wanting to attend,” he said. “The number of pupils has also increased from 617 two years ago to 665 this year.
“I think a lot of that is down to the way we have coped with the pandemic; not just through teaching, but with every aspect of Malvern life.
“When we were forced to move teaching online we came up with some innovative ways to keep some of the activities going that you would imagine we would have to cancel. For example, for outdoor pursuits we conducted an online course in mountain bike maintenance, home climbing challenges and a Strava group to set targets. It might not seem like much on the face of it, but it is these touches which add to our pupils’ overall experience.”