Redefining network boundaries to deliver educational excellence during COVID-19

Although set in 400-acres of beautiful Dorset countryside, Bryanston Boarding School hasn’t been exempt from the unprecedented challenges faced in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like so many schools up and down the country, it had to rapidly adapt following the government implemented lockdown. This meant redefining school boundaries and finding new ways of maintaining continuity in the education and development of pupils.
 
Bryant School


So just how does a boarding school - home to 680 students and 180 teaching staff during a typical school year - continue to excel when the buildings are closed, and the children are sent home?
 
Intelligently challenging convention
To move pupils and staff to remote learning practices, almost overnight, was perhaps the most significant and disruptive test any school could ever face. From adapting a full curriculum of teaching students, to managing parents expectations and ensuring the safety of individuals - this meant a full revamp of traditional education methods.
 
With a month between lockdown and the start of the summer term, schools across the country had to find new ways of fully embracing digital engagement to continue to deliver educational excellence. For Bryanston School in particular, this also meant connecting staff to pupils not just in the UK but all around the world. 
 
“Bryanston is a full-on, seven days a week experience,” says Mark Mortimer, headmaster at Bryanston School. He adds: “Education is not just what happens in the classroom.” Mortimer and Andy Barnes, the school’s director of technology, agreed that classes were perhaps the simplest aspect to replicate online. Pre-lockdown, they had already made use of audio/visual content, flipped learning (where students come to class prepared to give feedback on homework), and online feedback from teachers.
 
But to expand this on a global level they needed a secure and sustainable plan to leverage their robust and scalable network architecture.
 
Redefining boarding school boundaries
Fortunately, the school has benefited from years of sustained investment in IT infrastructure, meaning that there’s already been a digital element to their operations. However they needed to move fast when lockdown hit to redefine their school boundaries - reaching all four corners of the world - to maintain the education and development of pupils, whilst upholding academic and pastoral continuity.
 
Homework became manageable through online collaborative areas, with an app for marking work and engaging with tutors. Staff were already proficient in the use of technology and it was already being used in a transparent and flexible way. But to reach its full potential, they needed their network to be fast, reliable and easy to use - outside the boundaries of the school grounds. Through working with Aruba, their network core and access provided the backbone for uninterrupted and scalable traffic, meaning they could achieve digital transformation at pace and on a vast scale to ensure the continuity of education. 
 
Transforming the digital school experience
One of the bigger issues in the rush to get teams up and running, was establishing new class management policies. Over an intense ten-day period, Bryanston devised a new digital etiquette to establish ground rules for class disruption, online chat and the use of video.
 
“We wanted lessons to be collaborative, but we needed to create new social norms,” says Barnes. “It’s quite easy to pick up visual clues in the classroom as to a student’s mood. It’s not so easy online. We’ve created more reasons to engage, increased the number of online interactions and used video extensively.”
 
Whilst the school knew that both the pupils and their education were top priority, they also recognised the importance of supporting staff. Research conducted by RM Education earlier this year revealed that only a quarter (27%) of teachers were comfortable using the technology provided by their school. Bryanston’s staff were already comfortable with technology but with such statistics in mind, the school implemented a support network for teachers, as while all teachers were familiar with the technology infrastructure, some were more comfortable than others - this allowed them to share tips, advice and best practice.
 
Having the right mindset
Technology enabled them to make these necessary changes, but their mindset is what helped them succeed. Staff and students stepped out of their traditional comfort zones to try something new and found it worked better than expected. “The life and soul of the school is communication,” says Barnes. “We had to work hard to develop the ‘social glue’, the reasons to stay in touch. And this had to be light-hearted. Not all conversations have to be heavy. The greater the trust in the relationship, the easier it will be to have those tough conversations.”
 
Bryanston made sure to continue as many weekly school activities online as possible. To that end, assemblies, house newsletters, cooking classes, quizzes and remote concerts have all continued online.
 
Fortunately, many of these new practices have proven popular - with online communication allowing for more dialogue with parents, quick video chats between students and tutors, as well as an increase in audio and visual content. With such popularity, the school hopes to (where possible) continue many of these practices even as things begin to return to some semblance of normality.
 
Of course, these are unchartered waters, but despite the COVID-19 lockdown, Bryanston’s architecture supported the school’s rapid shift from physical to digital learning, engaging remote students in all corners of the world. The result is a school community that remains connected, dynamic, and resilient enough to cope with the unexpected.
 
03/08/2020