My Virtual School – new term. 14.4.2020

14 April 2020. It’s been a long day. Much of it like every other day in lock-down. Essential shopping for the week (forgot to buy coffee), the longest queue outside of Waitrose that I have experienced so far, but the carpark is filled with blossoming cherry trees and sunshine. More people wearing masks today as they shopped. But everything was available, except flour, and no new supply expected.

But today is not like any other day. Today is the first day of the new term at school. It began, as all terms do, with the Common Room meeting: pep talks and notices, followed by an INSET session. Later in the day, Warden’s Assembly followed by the Chapel service. And no one there for any of it. The whole school and staff scattered around the world, united by the internet.

The gallery view on zoom for the Common Room meeting showed so many familiar faces, each in relative isolation with their families. The Warden’s message to us, repeated from last week and to be at the forefront of this term: ambition, innovation, realism, reflection, care.

The website for Virtual Radley is now live, with just such an ambitious and innovative programme covering all aspects of school life. One of my form asked me before we all went home weeks ago ‘what will happen if I miss chapel?’ we wait to see because all of it is experimental, so dependent on technology, on imagination, on stamina and resilience, and on self-motivation. How hard to teach when so much of teaching is about personal interaction, those momentary glances, reading a pupil’s responses by body language, using the teacher’s own voice and silences to tease out a thought, and the boys reacting to each other, striking ideas, sharing excitement (or not). Now all by screen. And advice today of the sheer physicality, the ergonomics of sitting at a lap top for hours at a time.

And central to the ethos of the school – a Chapel service. I remember eons ago back in early March when the choir recorded the responses just in case it came to this. No one really believed any of it then. But now it was strangely moving to listen to the broadcast service, with a hymn sung long ago by the boys for a CD, echoing around the empty chapel. And then the solemn gravity of a piece by Bach to close.

School has begun.

© Clare Sargent