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When the UK went into lockdown on 23 March, many public sector organisations had to overhaul their logistics along with internal and stakeholder communications. While healthcare institutions turned to technology for video consultations, local councils rallied to keep key operations running, and schools across the nation had to find innovative ways to bring the classroom into their pupils’ homes for the first time.
Transitioning into a virtual school meant migrating all learning resources online. Teachers and senior leadership teams (SLTs) quickly realised this meant implementing a whole new tech-centric infrastructure to deliver lessons virtually.
With many on the back foot, some schools made contingency planning a priority in the build-up to lockdown.
One such school was St. Bartholomew’s, a Church of England primary school in Bolton.
Planning in the midst of unprecedented change
Forced to close its doors, the school looked to technology, hoping to source a video conferencing platform which would help them to deliver lessons online while still encouraging engagement among pupils.
Providing education for roughly 200 pupils from early years in Reception through to year 6 pupils, St. Bartholomew’s needed a solution quickly. The ideal solution would allow for 2-way communication via video conferencing to help uphold the pupils’ daily education routine.
Challenges and solutions
When lockdown was announced, St. Bartholomew’s had to become a 100% virtual school nearly overnight.
Looking to video conferencing technology for a new cloud communications solution, the school was able to address some of its key challenges.
Secure virtual classrooms
While some cloud communications applications for schools did not offer video conferencing at all, others were in the spotlight for security and privacy issues. The senior leadership team at St. Bartholomew’s chose to implement RingCentral Video as a secure and resilient solution which would allow them to deliver virtual classes while feeling fully assured in terms of online safety measures.
Using the software, teachers could record virtual classroom meetings and log them to keep track of each virtual session. When it came to virtual meetings, a member of the senior leadership team was present in each meeting in addition to the teacher. Using the unique meeting codes and secure passwords, teachers were able to ensure meetings were fully secure and keep their pupils safe whilst learning online.
Health and wellbeing in a virtual classroom environment
The pupils’ mental health and wellbeing was a core priority during the lockdown. Staff were aware they needed to go above and beyond to keep the children engaged, happy and healthy while learning from a distance.
Using RingCentral Video for virtual classrooms meant that teachers were able to see their pupils face-to-face on a video conference. Being able to get that real-time visual feedback gave the teachers peace of mind during every interaction.
Implementing fun challenges and collaboration activities, such as a “Where’s Wally?” challenge using RingCentral’s annotations feature, and weekly family quizzes along with regular phone calls from teachers to parents, meant that the teachers could check-in regularly and focus on their pupils’ mental health and happiness while keeping them engaged with their learning programmes.
The idea for a virtual quiz had come about from the introduction of a staff quiz night. The school’s senior leadership team noted that morale was waning at the beginning of the lockdown period, with an incredible amount of pressure on teachers having to completely change their teaching methods. Having to also be “always on” meant internal staff morale needed some attention too, so teachers introduced a weekly quiz night using RingCentral alongside the game-based learning app Kahoot!. This allowed the teachers to bond, retain a sense of team spirit, and indulge in a little social time while working from home.
St Bartholomew’s headteacher Mark Johns was incredibly happy with the way the RingCentral software helped them transition from brick and mortar to a virtual school and supported staff in implementing solutions to some of the school’s key challenges.
Mark received personal feedback emails and phone calls from parents saying children were “buzzing” using the new technology and that they loved the quiz nights and enjoyed simply being able to see their friends again.
For Mark, knowing the children were happy, healthy and safe was more than enough. “For any educator during a time like this,” says Mark, “there’s nothing better than being able to see that your students are happy, healthy and engaged. RingCentral lets us do that, and it’s been brilliant for our school.”