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How this UK Primary School Is Keeping its Students and Staff Engaged During the COVID-19 Lockdown

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St. Bartholomew’s Church of England Primary School has been operating consistently since 1860, when it was established as Westhoughton Parochial Church of England Primary School. The school changed its name in 2009, primarily to emphasise its close connection to St. Bartholomew’s Church. The school serves roughly 200 students, Reception through to Year 6.
Year founded:
Bolton, Greater Manchester, United Kingdom

The quarantines forced this primary school to close its doors. But because they had the right tools, even the pandemic couldn’t stop the school’s community from staying connected and engaged.

By any measure, St. Bartholomew’s Church of England Primary School is a high-achieving institution. Year after year, the school’s students outperform the UK national average on key stage assessment scores for all subjects—reading, writing, maths, etc.—often by large margins.
The government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regularly rates the school’s performance as “Good”. But as much as the school is committed to academic excellence, St. Bartholomew’s true mission is to develop the whole child. The school supports this mission with a rich, varied curriculum that encourages students to explore, become lifelong learners, and mature into well-rounded individuals. By all evidence—from the praise of parents to the fact that the school has operated successfully for a century and a half—it’s clear St. Bartholomew’s is succeeding at its mission.
Of course, any school’s ability to focus on the whole child—or even part of the child—becomes far more difficult when a global pandemic leads to a mandated closing of its doors. When the COVID-19 lockdown was announced in the UK, St. Bartholomew’s had to scramble to become a virtual school nearly overnight.

Cloud communications help keep the learning and engagement going

When they realised the school would be shutting down, St. Bartholomew’s staff had a lot of work to do in a short time. The team worked out arrangements with publishers to purchase workbooks to send home with students. They set up lessons and educational activities on the school’s website. The tech-savvy team even created Twitter accounts for each class to disseminate information. But they also wanted to maintain two-way communications with students.
“We wanted to have our teachers make regular check-in calls from home to students and their families,” says Headteacher Mark Johns. “We also wanted to have virtual staff meetings—not only strictly for work but also to keep each other’s morale up.” When Mark and his team learned about RingCentral’s all-in-one cloud communications solution, they knew they’d solved both of those challenges.

Finding creative ways to keep young minds active

When they rolled out RingCentral, St. Bartholomew’s teachers began hosting weekly virtual classrooms with students using the RingCentral Meetings video conferencing platform. Those first meetings proved so popular—more than two-thirds of students consistently joined—that all of the classes began hosting them.
“We also started holding a weekly video-based school and family quiz,” says Mark. “Student participation was high from the start, and the parents consistently told us those virtual gatherings were really helping their children.”
“Another thing we really appreciate is the screen sharing and annotation features in RingCentral Meetings,” Mark explains. “For the younger classes our teachers will do Where’s Wally puzzles, and the students love drawing their circles around Wally on the screen when they spot him.”

Protecting what matters most

As grateful as the St. Bartholomew’s staff has been for its ability to digitally guide students through academic lessons and enrichment activities, that was only a secondary priority for the school during the lockdown.
“Right now, our staff are much more concerned with supporting the children’s mental health and well-being than worrying about their grades,” says Mark. “Being able to bring our students together for a RingCentral video meeting, and let them interact with their teachers and peers, has been wonderful. And when the children get a little bit noisy, our teachers can just hit the Mute button on them—and that’s wonderful, too.”