An unprecedented end to the Spring Term

During the last week of the Spring term Withington, along with schools across the country, entered previously uncharted territory following the government announcement on Wednesday 18 March of the closure of schools across the UK until further notice, with effect from the end of the school day on Friday 20 March.

Committed to continuing with the delivery of a high standard of education for all our pupils during the closure period, here at Withington we were able to rapidly launch a remote learning programme, known as Virtual WGS, on Monday 23 March. We were in the fortunate position of having all Senior and Sixth Form pupils equipped with their own mobile device – either a laptop or tablet – which they were already accustomed to using as part of their regular education through our mobile learning programme. Our Juniors were provided with a lesson pack before school closed with further lessons sent via email.

Each day, our pupils ‘attended’ school according to their usual timetable; lessons were set and Senior School teachers were available to discuss topics and answer any questions from pupils. And wellbeing was not overlooked – we believe the Joe Wicks daily PE lesson proved a hit but so did Mrs Birch’s yoga classes for younger children, there were art and craft activities, pupils shared pictures on the theme of ‘animals’ for a photo competition (lots of cute pet photos on display!), Heads of Year provided advice and suggestions, and on the last day of term, after engaging in the scheduled Pupil Review, Senior pupils played along with their families and used virtual collaboration with other pupils to tackle the traditional House Quiz. The House Quiz questions were set by Year 12 students and included Countdown Letters, Countdown Numbers, Song Lyrics and a Lockdown Limerick Round, with the following shared via Virtual WGS to get the ball rolling:

School closed to fight Covid-19
A lockdown like we’ve never seen
Although it’s not cool
We really miss school
Thank goodness for Microsoft Teams …

And here’s one from a Year 7 pupil:

Lockdown has been really tough,
We all have been feeling quite rough.
A danger unseen
I think we’ve now all had enough!

There was no overall House winner on this occasion, as Deputy Head Ms Baylis explained: “We just put out the challenges and the pupils could have fun in their own way. Everyone was a winner!”

So, a week of Virtual WGS has been completed, and now we have a short break in which to reflect and refine from lessons learned during this first week of remote learning, but it appears to have gone remarkably smoothly. Parents have reported that their daughters have been incredibly engaged, so much so that many parents working from home were surprised at the extent to which they were able to focus on their own work – our ‘Withy Wonders’ make us very proud! Thank you to both parents and girls for their commitment and support and to our remarkable team of staff for making this happen!

The final Assembly message for our Senior and Sixth Form pupils from Mrs Haslam sums up the Spring term and leaves us all with an inspiring and uplifting message:

“Normally at this point we would all be gathered in the Arts Centre with that exciting mix of emotions as the term comes to a close – the sense of many things achieved, challenges faced, much fun had – and a feeling of being ready for a well-earned rest! I hope that, despite the change in circumstances that none of us could have foreseen when this term began back in January, you still have a strong sense of satisfaction from a term’s work well done and a feeling of the Withington community around you.

Despite us having to postpone some events that were due to take place over these last couple of weeks, we still have the vast majority of the Spring Term to look back on and we should, as ever, be extremely proud of all that has been achieved. Everyone has been working hard in their academic subjects, learning, researching and exploring new material and making a host of exciting and valuable projects take shape in their Forms, Year groups, Houses and extra-curricular activities, many for the benefit of other people.

Drama, Music and Sport have all had particular highlights this term – with the wonderfully inventive production of Beasts and Beauties and the LAMDA Showcase; music recitals and many girls completing ABRSM exams; numerous sporting successes including our U14 netballers becoming North West champions; MUN; debating; reading groups; national finals in the Maths Challenge and Economics Budget Challenge; our Chemistry Communicators in action; an inspiring EPQ Presentation Evening and, in the last week, both of our Young Enterprise teams winners with Lovender Botanics awarded ‘Best Presentation’ and YouPhoria ‘Best Overall Company’ in the Young Enterprise north and south Manchester finals. (Conducted digitally of course!)

And just as importantly, this term has seen the usual incredible range of charity, community and partnership projects which are so very special to us all at Withington. In January our Eco team’s sterling and innovative work was recognised in the re-award of the Eco Schools Green Flag; we have been supported by the visits to school of various former pupils/alumnae, not least of all on International Women’s Day and Withington girls have raised a fantastic £8,000 for charity this term, not to mention knitting over 200 chicks and rabbits for Francis House – you are all amazing! Very well done indeed.

So what of these next two and a half weeks as we look ahead to the Easter break? Well, this is still a time for rest, relaxation and renewal. We will not be setting work in the Virtual WGS so instead think about how you can use this break to give yourself and those around you the gift of some quality time. I know that occasionally it might feel unsettling to have our usual freedoms limited and that is only natural but please don’t let this period knock your confidence or your sense of optimism.

On International Women’s Day, alumna Joëlle Warren spoke to us about the power of remembering your ‘True North’. This means using your internal compass, your sense of what you know is right, what you have learned and who you are. This internal compass can guide us and keep us steady, just like an anchor, in times of change and challenge. Even though our movements might be limited to our houses and gardens at the moment there is still so much we can do, both for ourselves and for others so don’t lose heart – hold onto what you know is true and right – find ways to respect yourself and respect others, to cherish the love of family and friends and nourish the pleasure of learning, exploring, researching, making, creating – and it will guide you through. And if you’re in any doubt at any point, I hope this link will make you smile:

With very best wishes from us all at Withington.”