Mon 03 / 08 / 20
“COVID has propelled us into the classroom of the future”
Rosie McColl, Head of Brighton Girls, shares the positive outcomes for education.
By Lauren Psyk
Starting a top new job is often nerve-racking, challenging and exhausting. But Rosie McColl certainly had a baptism of fire. Just ten weeks after joining Brighton Girls school as Head, Rosie found herself in a situation where there were no rules and no precedents. As guest speaker at July’s Brighton Chamber breakfast, Rosie inspired us with the tale of her school’s response to the COVID crisis.
It is over 150 years since the early pioneers in girls’ education, Grey, Gurney, Lyttleton and Stanley, founded the Girls’ Public Day School Trust, of which Brighton Girls is a founding school. As Rosie tells us in this Q&A, their pioneering, disruptive spirit is as strong as it has ever been, but so is their kindness and consideration for others...
In what ways has COVID-19 been an 'accelerator' in terms of moving the education system forwards?
“In January 2020, the World Economic Forum published a report entitled ‘Schools of the Future’. Its proposals for greater emphasis on innovation and creativity, global citizenship, personalised, accessible and inclusive learning look remarkably similar to the environment we created during lockdown.
“We were propelled into the classroom of the future: lessons, tutor time, assemblies, induction days – everything moved online. We ran virtual trips - whole year groups visited Pompeii, others honed their field study skills in Antarctica; we brought in guest speakers; we created a programme of online enrichment to fill the void left by the cancellation of exams.
“Coronavirus fast-tracked our tech capability hugely. When COVID hit, we had to implement and train Google Classroom in just four days. Staff leapt into action and we were able to deliver a full virtual version of our timetable”.
How has this experience demonstrated the importance of empathy in the workplace?
“People’s personal battles became more visible. Like many people, my days were dominated by online meetings, but this meant that my laptop became a window into other worlds. A meeting with a colleague being interrupted by a small child; a student who has dyed her hair blue; an introvert enjoying the relative paradise of remote learning; another struggling and missing friends – all these battles were suddenly brought into sharp relief.
“It has given me a renewed determination to make time to pause and take notice of others, to hear their stories, to listen without judgement, and to keep things in perspective”.
How has the crisis enabled you to reach out beyond the school into the wider community?
“Brighton Girls school has a long history of forging links with its local community. The tradition of the Guild – the school’s charitable enterprise - has been in existence since 1886 and is very much alive today. During the pandemic, we have delivered online lessons in English and Science to children in primary schools across the city, and two of our English teachers are running an online book club for Year 4 and 5 pupils throughout the summer. We have recently been awarded an HSBC Partnership Funding Grant to set up the ‘Brighton Stargazing Project’, a STEM initiative which will see students from Brighton Girls working alongside pupils from St Andrew’s primary in Hove. We have been involved in the ‘You Are Never Alone’ project to connect local schools with care homes, and the Brighton Girls community has donated generously to the City Mission food bank, and raised money for the Brighton Women’s Centre and Rockinghorse charities – all these partnerships will continue for many years to come”
How can the business community help to ensure we equip young people for the world of tomorrow?
“We are being bombarded constantly by messages about ‘future skills’; in my view, there is too much anxiety and not enough excitement about the changing nature of the jobs market. Teachers have continued preparing students to sit exams that have remained unchanged for 160 years – until now.
“It is important for us to have regular conversations – and this is where the local community comes in, and why I am so pleased that Brighton Girls is now part of Brighton Chamber. We need to tap into real life experiences, seek an alternative perspective, and encourage some rebel ideas.
“I am keen to develop partnerships that will lead to experiential learning opportunities for our students – for example we have recently established a partnership with the Brighton Screen and Film School, and the Feminist Bookshop.
“We need to be even more innovative in what we do - both in the classroom, and beyond the classroom - to ensure that our students are ready, not just to face the future, but, as Abraham Lincoln said, to “create” it.”
Lauren Psyk is a Brighton based photographer, blogger, content creator and marketer working throughout the South East.
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