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Lockdown lessons learned by Dingwall Academy can have long-term benefits for Ross-shire secondary school


By Hector MacKenzie

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Karen Cormack: Lessons learned.
Karen Cormack: Lessons learned.

THE shock of that first national lockdown a year ago hit us all pretty hard and in many different ways.

It had an immediate impact on many livelihoods and for others the health concerns – physical and mental – were overwhelming.

And it turned the world of thousands of school children – and their parents and teachers – across Ross-shire and beyond upside-down, triggering a remarkable effort to establish an online home learning platform at short notice.

The rector of Ross-shire’s largest school, Dingwall Academy, is as well aware of the challenges as anyone.

Karen Cormack said: “Very quickly we found ourselves having to find new and innovative ways of doing things. How can we continue to deliver lessons? How can we hold whole school events like assemblies and prizegiving?

“How can we make sure pupils are supported and safe? I think we can feel very proud of what we have managed to achieve.

“This year has been hard, the pressure on staff and pupils has been intense but one lesson, not so much learned as confirmed, is what a fantastic team we have at Dingwall Academy. And by team I mean teaching staff, non-teaching staff, pupils and parents.

2020 Dux Medal to Alana Mutch (centre) and Proxime Accessit to Ross Stewart (left) and Melvine Lynch (right)
2020 Dux Medal to Alana Mutch (centre) and Proxime Accessit to Ross Stewart (left) and Melvine Lynch (right)

“You will sometimes hear the media talk about schools reopening – schools have never closed and staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that pupils continue to receive their learning online.

We have been very fortunate that all pupils had access to a Chromebook, and this has shown us new ways of connecting. We can now use technology to connect with parents in different ways. For example, we held online assemblies during lockdown that parents could listen into.

“We held online baking sessions where pupils could join in live at home. This opens school up to parents in a way that we had never considered before. The technology has also allowed us to connect with some pupils who find the whole experience of coming into school difficult.

“We need to build on that, even as schools start to return.

But while the technology has been central to our online delivery, one lesson from lockdown has been the importance of finding time away from the screen. We organised screen-free days, where pupils worked through a series of wellbeing challenges. We are all guilty of too much screen time and need to make a conscious effort to balance this.

“But perhaps the most important lesson is that relationships and people really are at the heart of what we do in schools. If, just over a year ago, pupils had been told that they were going to have so many weeks away from school, some may have been delighted.

“But the reality has been very different. Pupils missed school and staff missed having pupils in front of them. However, good the technology, nothing can replace that face to face connection.

“There are things that we will now do differently, there are things that we will now do better – but we all hope that we don’t ever have to do anything like this again.”

Dingwall Academy pupils were forced to adapt first to remote learning and then a new set-up when back in the classroom. After a second lockdown, secondary pupils have been making a phased return to the classrooms.
Dingwall Academy pupils were forced to adapt first to remote learning and then a new set-up when back in the classroom. After a second lockdown, secondary pupils have been making a phased return to the classrooms.

When we caught up with some pupils towards the end of last year, those themes were repeated. Ross Stewart said: “I learnt how important being in school and in front of teachers is. Online learning was not for me. I definitely struggled with motivation.”

Kirsty Arnaud said: “It took me so much longer to do any task as I couldn’t discuss it immediately with classmates and teachers.”

Ruairidh McGee said: “The importance of a teacher with us in class was so clear in some subjects. When you don’t have someone taking you through things step by step, it was really hard in some subjects. Even when we used Google Meet and spoke directly to our teacher, it wasn’t the same.”

For, Elsa Fearn, it brought home the importance of the social aspect of school. She said: “It was a long, long time without our friends.”

Ross agreed with that sentiment: “People got lonely. Not everyone admits it, but people did.”

Kirsty added: “Coming back to school actually brought that to light. It was a tough time and it impacted on people’s mental health. Perhaps some people are only just realising that now.”

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