Dixie Remote Learning

“Private schools have taught too many live online lessons during lockdown and are turning some pupils into “Zoom zombies”, an expert has claimed. Professor Lue said that asking children to attend live web lessons all day “was not effective and results in immense Zoom-learning fatigue”. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/online-lessons-create-classes-of-coronavirus-zoombies-jbvzkxgl6 . Just today, schools have been criticised for providing too few online lessons throughout the period of remote learning: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/1-in-8-primary-school-pupils-did-real-time-online-lessons-in-lockdown-cgbgstjh3.

Our aim from the outset of remote teaching and learning was not simply to engage in remote teaching, but to provide a remote Dixie education in the fullest sense possible. Whilst the approach needed for Junior and Senior pupils was different, our guiding policy was to try and provide as much variety as possible – a mixture of closed and open ended tasks, collaborative and individual work, online interaction and individual written tasks. A mix of screen time, activities outside and time with families, with a focus on the well-being of all at the centre of our provision – pupils, parents and staff, recognising that the circumstances for all parties varied widely.  

Some parents expressly asked for, and some local schools provided, days of supervised real time remote study for their children. In our opinion, as reflected in the above article, we were clear from the outset that a day of online real time lessons would not have been healthy for students – looking at any screen all day is to be avoided, not least one the size of most phones. That said, we were also clear that a day with no online engagement would make motivation an even greater challenge for Dixie pupils

There was no Dixie ‘Zoom Doom’ and we avoided creating Dixie ‘Zoombies’: from lawns mown in the shape of dinosaurs, working blast furnaces handed in for marking, sunflower competitions, solar system models, sports challenges, new languages learned (including British Sign Language), BLM student-led assemblies, computer club challenges, Tie of the Day, engineering challenges to live performances of sea shanties, the students’ learning has been as eclectic in lockdown as it would have been in school. 

During lockdown we all focussed on relationships – those we miss, why they are important and how to maintain them without physical presence. In school we discuss relationships a great deal of the time – how to be a good friend, when to tell an adult if you are worried about yourself or someone else, how you should be treated by friends, family and when the time comes, partners. Education IS the preparation of young people for adult life – academically and pastorally. As so much of our adult life is about the relationships we establish it follows that a vital part of education is exploring relationships with young people; giving them an opportunity to decide what kind of relationships they want in their lives. Such topics are difficult to share online and it is fair to say that students have missed out on some valuable time exploring these topics; a matter we fully intend to address during next academic year. 

Throughout remote learning there was also an emphasis on the pastoral; from delivery of home learning packs for our youngest pupils, form time, assemblies, to individual meetings and ‘thought for the day’ – many of which were proposed by students. As part of our final week activities of non-curriculum learning we asked students to engage in a relationships challenge – to complete at least one of these challenges focussed on valuing relationships: 

  • Paint a stone with a positive relationship quote and leave it in their local community on their daily walk. Share pictures of their efforts on social media. 
  • Create short videos on what makes a healthy friendship for use in supporting the induction of year 7s in the new academic year. 
  • Create a title, a synopsis and a cover design for a new book about relationships and love.

Students were also given opportunities to engage in traditionally fierce House competition (York vs Lancaster) by taking part in the following: Sporting challenges as part of our Virtual Sports Day, a Photo competition, a Writing competition, an Arts Trail, a Chemistry challenge, a Biology challenge, a Live Music Festival, a House Quiz, with the final competition broadcast at the end of the week. 

Our bespoke newly designed programmes of study for Year 11 and the Upper Sixth highlighted the innovation of teachers and adaptability of students. Both courses have ensured that these students, initially feared to be in danger of missing out the most, have actually gained enormously, and are now well prepared for the next stage of their academic careers.

Expectations of students and their subsequent achievement was no lower whilst remote teaching and the engagement of the whole school community in the final week of term activities was fantastic. Staff showed great flexibility and ingenuity in making the final week programme available, parents supported us in our aims and students participated and engaged in huge numbers – real evidence of the strength of our community and the Dixie Difference!

Mental Health at the Dixie

Update in the face of Coronavirus

Currently, Britain and the world is facing new and extensive challenges to people’s mental well-being arising from the reality of COVID 19.  There is no doubt this is a particularly challenging time – many of our usual support mechanisms for our well-being are not open to us the most obvious being that we cannot see wider family and friends.  A large number of the mechanisms outlined above are not available to students and staff at the current time and there is wide recognition that school closure whilst vital for safety at the current time has implications on the mental well-being of staff and students alike. 

However, it is not the case that because we can’t see students we can’t look after them.  I am immensely proud of our efforts to engage with students – staff have risen to the challenge of online lessons allowing youngsters to meet virtually on a regular basis.  I have no doubt that we will tackle the next challenge, to enable increased collaborative learning, with just as much enthusiasm.   Pastoral staff have been holding Form Time, pre-recorded assemblies have been sent out to the school community every week and who could fail but be moved by the results of the virtual choir singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow?  Individual staff have continued to identify students whom they feel need some additional support – peer mentors have been rallied, phone calls with parents made and where necessary liaison with outside agencies.  Every morning our Director of Student Care Mrs Banton has sent a positive mental health starter activity to Form teachers to support their meetings with their charges.  There has been advice on keeping a structure, observing good sleep patterns, coping with isolation, developing a jar of positivity and so much more. 

None of us would choose the current situation; we are all desperate to return to school, but will not be advocating this until we consider it safe to do so.  Health and safety for staff and students is all important and all encompassing; it is not just physical or mental health that can dictate decisions but rather the commitment to act in the Dixie community’s best interests to the very best of our abilities.  I have written elsewhere about the conflict of duties and this is certainly an example of such a conflict but rest assured we will continue to support students as far as we are humanly able and will be striving to fulfil our duties as many as they are.


Staff at the Dixie recognise that young people and adults alike face significant challenges to their mental health.  The pressures resulting from examinations, puberty and the changes associated with secondary education are substantial and are further compounded by the presence of social media.  Young people today face particular challenges online – to conform to behaviours, to seek and receive approval for image, lifestyle, choices etc.  The national figures concerning mental health in young people are alarming and this understandably is of great concern to parents.

Along with concerns about the rise in mental health difficulties among young people are very grave concerns about the difficulties faced by youngsters and the adults that care for them in accessing support services.  As well as this, there is rightly a focus among professionals about how to prevent mental health difficulties. 

We are not believers in one-off programmes, catch-all cures or knee-jerk responses but this does not mean that we do not take the school’s role in preventing and responding to mental health concerns very seriously.

Prevention

There is lots of research that suggests that we can prepare our young people for the challenges of life by providing a balanced approach to life for them from their earliest steps.  Experts tell us that we build resilience in children by allowing them to fail sometimes, by helping them resolve their own difficulties and by standing back on occasions whilst they work out their friendships, relationships with peers and elders.  Of course, there are times when as parents it is exactly right that we step in to help our children and certainly knowing which situation is which is one of the real challenges of parenting.  We recognise that mental health challenges exist in any and all circumstances – for the student facing a shocking life event such as a parental bereavement, the child with low self-esteem, a youngster experiencing identity challenges or the high achiever putting undo pressure upon themselves.

Here at the Dixie the factors that contribute to building resilience include:

  • Generous PE allocation compulsory until Year 11 – exercise is vital to good mental health.
  • DOSE for Year 6 – team-building, outdoors education, problem solving activities.
  • Emphasis on trips and outdoor education – managing the challenges of room allocations on a trip, sorting Duke of Edinburgh groups, being responsible for one’s own passports, staying with a family abroad, these are all mechanisms by which young people can learn and importantly test the skills needed for adult life.
  • Strict rules in school and on school trips regarding the use of personal phones.
  • PSHCE embedded in the curriculum Years 6 – 11.  These lessons provide an opportunity to explore topics not covered elsewhere on the curriculum, including drugs and relationships education as well as to respond to difficulties within year groups as they arise.
  • Balanced approach to exams – all year groups complete end of year exams which is good preparation for external exams but for students early on in their school careers there is very little fuss or stress associated with these exams by staff.  Low key assessment of the teaching is the message.  Increased formality associated with exams in the senior part of the school is appropriate and helps to prepare students for the demands of GCSEs and A Levels.  Study Leave for Year 10 students and Year 11 during mocks also helps to prepare them for the ‘real thing’.
  • Recognition of success in as broad terms as possible – every week we celebrate the successes of our students on the playing fields, in the classroom, in clubs and activities both within and beyond school.
  • Balancing competition and participation – competition is a part of life and it would be wrong not to prepare our students for this.  We do engage in competitive sport, award prizes for academic, sporting and wider excellence but we are conscious not to engrain attitudes towards competition too early.  Lots of sports fixtures are all inclusive and students are recognised for their achievements as widely as possible.
  • Individual speakers / presentations – we take opportunities when they arise to invite individual speakers into school to address particular year groups about relevant issues.  Recent presentations have been on drugs and alcohol to Years 8 & 9, understanding teenage mental health to parents and the dangers of Online Criminal Exploitation to Years 9 & 10.
  • Support from specialised programmes – Dr Julie Hurst leads three well-being sessions in Year 6 building on the work she facilitates in the Junior School and supporting students through the change from the Junior to Senior School.

Response

As you would expect all staff at the Dixie Grammar School are trained to be alert to signs of distress in young people and to respond appropriately to a student who shares concerns about their well-being.  This will usually mean referring the student to one of the two Designated Safeguarding Leads in the school – Mrs H Joanne Banton (Director of Student Care) or Ms Catrina Young (Deputy Head) Both have had additional training to enable us to carry out these roles in school.  As well as training we have access to a wide range of advice & support lines to help parents get the right support for their sons and daughters.  As we are all too aware, funding for such services is in crisis and it can be difficult to access appropriate help but together we work to support your children as much as we are able. 

The support we offer varies from individual to individual but can include, provision of a peer mentor, identifying a staff member to act as a mentor, offering a chance to off-load concerns be that as a one off or an on-going exercise.  We can make alterations to practical arrangements in school where these would be helpful and are possible and as discussed above can liaise with families and external agencies to help ensure young people get the support they require.

Year 11 – making the most of opportunities

None of us would have wished for our Year 11 to have had the opportunity to sit GCSE exams removed from them, but given that it has happened, there is a wonderful opportunity to be exploited.

There is a well-documented academic gap between GCSE and A level courses, and a significant factor in this is the gap in the required learning style and level of independence – A levels demand an entirely different and far more rigorous attitude and approach.

The content heavy specifications necessitate a more teacher led approach at GCSE – the teacher setting the pace and dictating tasks to be completed. At A level, there is greater time to explore, discover and for students to engage independently and collaboratively with the material at hand; indeed the content of lessons is just the starting point for real academic success. It is often the student’s own interests which dictate the topic (as in History coursework at A level) and their own motivation to develop lines of enquiry which drives progress. Hard work is necessary for the highest grades at A level, but is not by itself sufficient.

The teacher student relationship is entirely different at A level – teachers are not so much rattling through specifications as coaching students to higher levels of thinking, ensuring they develop the study and other skills which will see them through their A levels and beyond.

At the Dixie we have made the most of the opportunity of cancelled exams and have started all Year 11 students on the journey between GCSE and A level – we are walking them across the chasm rather than expecting them to jump it in September. A solid foundation now ensures the successful structure on to which they can build their A level success.

Image captured from a Biology Zoom collaborative experiment

Each A level subject has its own 8-week programme this term that is combination of remote live lessons and further work outside these meeting times. They have been set tasks with purpose: RS students are being introduced to the Divine Command theory; French students are already developing the skills we normally look to establish in September, exploiting French news online to build banks of vocabulary, cultural knowledge and the pleasure of uncovering for themselves what makes France tick; Biologists have been engaged in zoom experiments – collaboratively investigating the importance of hydrogen bonds;

Physicists have completed a project on the life and work of Richard Feynman and discussed the Max Planck and chauffeur test on understanding concepts; to help Year 11 Historians transition into thinking like A level historians, we have started a course on heroes which will segue steadily into the A level topics. Wherever I look, from Mandarin to Mathematics, our Year 11 students are being engaged in and exposed to the demands of A level learning early.

Hermione Grainger needed a time turner to attend multiple classes at once, but students can take part in the full suite of A level subjects should they wish. This will be invaluable in September, ensuring they start courses with a greater sense of purpose, with skills already in place and with real knowledge of the demands of each course. Ultimately, this period will allow them to make better choices.  

I am very proud of our A level bridging courses: it is unlike any other school’s provision in the area and further evidence of the Dixie Difference. Given all that is written above, Year 10 students might well ask if this programme will be repeated next year. We very much hope that current Year 10 students will have their understanding tested under the glare of the exam hall lights, but following the exam period, yes, I do hope that these A level bridging courses become part of Dixie Grammar’s new normal.

Dixie Fortitude

I first heard this term in conversation with Walter Baynes – the Dixie Grammar School Association archivist and fount of knowledge on all things Dixie. Walter maintains close contact with the school through the annual laying of a wreath on the grave of former Dixie student, Herbert Black. Students are always fascinated by Walter’s knowledge of Dixie history at these occasions – they return with a real sense that they belong to a community that will always remember them, but also that the baton passed from previous generations of Dixie students is firmly in their hands.

Fortitude, or courage in the face of adversity was used by Walter in reference to Anne Jones, founder member of the Dixie Grammar School Association.

Anne was one of the first to greet my family to the Dixie Grammar School and from the outset it was abundantly clear how very proud she was of her association with the school. My communication with Anne was always by handwritten letter: in her last letter to me, she donated a book to the library in memory of a dear friend of hers – a fellow student at the school. I was delighted to be able to share the donation with the school in assembly along with excerpts of her letter in which she highlighted the traits of a Dixie student – among them, fortitude. Anne was the epitome of ‘Dixie fortitude’ – not least in the inspirational courage she showed as she neared the end of her life. She knew October 2019 was to be her last DGSA reunion, but she wanted no fuss. I am very proud to have known Anne, and will remember her with great fondness, not least for her Dixie fortitude, commitment to her old school and ability to laugh no matter what the situation.  

There has been a school in Market Bosworth since perhaps before the 11th century and certainly a school with the name of the Dixie since 1601. Visitors to the Dixie always comment on the sense of history as they walk around the senior school, the building of which dates from 1828. Throughout the school’s history, the baton of Dixie fortitude has been passed from generation to generation. Lady Florence Dixie (1855-1905), former resident of Bosworth Hall was honoured recently with a Leicestershire County Council Green Plaque on which she is described as an ‘author and campaigner for women’s rights’. Representatives of our school attended the unveiling during which she was described as a ‘woman ahead of her time’.

Lady Florence Dixie held strong views on the emancipation of women, proposing that the sexes should be equal in marriage and divorce, that the Crown should be inherited by the monarch’s oldest child, regardless of sex and even that men and women should wear the same clothes. She played a key role in establishing the game of women’s association football and in 1895 became founding president of the British Ladies’ Football Club, stipulating that “the girls should enter into the spirit of the game with heart and soul.” At the time, women had to wear corsets and high-heeled boots, and although this rule was eventually relaxed, they still had to wear bonnets, with the game being stopped “if any woman headed the ball and it dislodged either bonnet or hairpin which had to be replaced before the game could resume.”

In 1895 she wrote: “There is no reason why football should not be played by women, and played well too, provided they dress rationally and relegate to limbo the straitjacket attire in which fashion delights to attire them.”

Lady Dixie and those involved in the early days of the British Ladies’ Football Club embodied fortitude – despite the heckling from the crowds, pitch invasions, press censure and derision, the club sponsored by Lady Dixie went on to play over 100 exhibition matches. The Dixie Grammar School is proud to carry her family’s name.

In these unprecedented times, with all the challenges of remote learning and social distancing, Dixie fortitude is needed by our community as much as it ever was. The Dixie is about people and relationships, not building and facilities and it remains important for us all to show kindness in our dealings with each other. Remote learning is a real challenge to us all – and its success depends on students, not just teachers. There are bound to be frustrations, technical issues and it is vital that we remain calm, patient, determined – that we show Dixie fortitude. By doing so we can all turn these strange times to our advantage. It is also important that we all find the courage to look beyond ourselves, our own problems and despite the situation we are in, to consider how we can make a positive difference to the lives of others around us. As a school we have already donated over 270 pieces of protective eye wear to local NHS services and we are planning, later in the term, for a lunch delivery service for members of the local community in need. We are also planning for a Dixie summer school, running for five weeks over the summer holidays to help support our parents as they re-establish working patterns.

It is sometimes what appears to be the smallest of acts which have the largest effect and I have been delighted to share acts of generosity, ingenuity and courage from Dixie students and the wider Dixie community on our social media channels. The baton of Dixie fortitude is in safe hands.

Traditions

Traditions

I first wrote this piece in December 2019, just two months after my father passed away; the combination of Christmas and loss was a potent one for reflection on family traditions.  Now some five months later, in midst of extraordinary times for which there are, thankfully, no traditions,  I am moved to revisit.

I am a great believer in traditions – they connect us to the past, reinforce links between communities be they based on faith, interests, location or especially relevant for me schools.  Traditions also serve to mark the passage of time and ensure due significance is made of momentous events in life – birth, first and last days of school, significant birthdays and marriage to name but a few.

As a child I went to Boarding School and the rituals associated with the end of term have stayed with me forever – even as a tired teacher really looking forward to turning off the alarm clock and putting down the red pen for a couple of weeks the end of term cannot quite live up to the excitement I experienced as a child.  The penultimate afternoon of school was cancelled and whilst day girls watched a film, us boarders returned to our boarding houses and packed our trunks ready for them to be stored or collected along with us, by parents the following morning.  Looking forward to returning home after ten or more weeks at school was a special kind of excitement.

Christmas is of course a time of traditions both for Christians and others.  Putting up the tree, visiting relatives, watching the Queen’s speech or eating turkey; they each hold significance within our communities.  I read an article recently that suggested that when you open your Christmas presents signifies the socio-economic class you belong to.  Well I am not sure about that but I do remember a Christmas of my young adulthood when friends and I hired a cottage in Devon to do our ‘own’ Christmas.  It was chaos because each person wanted traditions from their own family Christmases re-enacted by this new community – we ended up with a Christmas dinner that included turkey and beef, onion as well as bread sauce and as many vegetables as there were people.

Of course sometimes traditions need to or are forced to change.  A change of circumstances be that for happy or sad reasons dictates that a tradition is no longer workable in any given community.  For me this is my first Christmas without my parents whose expectations of Christmas influenced greatly my own.  A number of years ago I heard a wise woman say that if traditions don’t work for you or your family, ‘make new ones’ and I have held onto this ever since.  It is time in my family to choose which traditions of my parents we are going to maintain – Queen’s Speech, Boxing Day walk and The Sound of Music are in and which no longer work for us.  Time to enshrine our own traditions which in turn will become those my sons evaluate in years to come.

The current pandemic is forcing us to alter traditions in very significant ways; people are unable to celebrate their weddings, birthday parties cancelled, grand-parents denied first or subsequent visits to new babies and so much more.  Perhaps one of the most tragic difficulties families face is being unable to arrange traditional funerals for their loved ones.  My father had the most magnificent funeral – a suitable level of pomp and circumstance in a packed village church surrounded by the people he loved and that loved him, I would have been devastated not to be able to give him that send off and my heart goes out to families denied such a farewell. However, looking for some glimmer of positive I have been touched to read that the tradition of people standing silently as a hearse passes by is returning in these times – I have been moved to read of residents standing clapping on their driveways to say farewell to neighbours.  I am also lifted by the promises of wonderful parties of celebration to be held when circumstances allow – perhaps some of these changes will stay with us and we’ll explain to our grandchildren why since COVID 19 we have two parts to a funeral; a family service and a celebration?

Here at Dixie we consider ourselves lucky enough to be a school with strong traditions – the ritual of entering school through the main oak doors in September connects today’s Dixie students with the centuries of Dixie scholars including, of course, our most famous pupils Thomas Hooker and Samuel Johnson.  Yet we are also young enough to ensure that our traditions really work for our students and staff.  We cherish the ringing in of the school year by the youngest member of Year 6 (by the bell that once hung on the clock tower) and the ringing out of the school year on the final day of term following a whole school Prize Giving.  This latter tradition is very young having started when Mr Lynn joined the school in 2014.  Mr Lynn’s now famous assemblies on the last day for the Upper 6th are enjoyed by all; a chance for students to reminisce, parents to reflect on how their babies became young men and women and for us all to wish our departing students the very best for their futures.

I am also struck now by how quickly some traditions form – how many of us are enjoying regular zoom meet ups with friends and family?  My family have been engaged in a quiz with others which I am confident will carry on after I am allowed to actually go out on a Saturday night! Our now established weekly catch up with my husband’s family has been a delight (especially watching father-in-law grapple with yet another app that we suggest) and will, I am sure be maintained.

In our final assembly of the Christmas term, Mrs Craig took on the mantle form Mr Haddon and offered the school a Christmas reflection following Mr Lynn’s usual presentation assembly.  She spoke of the historical message of Christmas, when ‘before became after’ and urged us all to use the holidays to reflect on our own before – times when we have not spoken or behaved as well as we might have done and to look forward to the after, make a commitment to the future.  Tomorrow sees a young but, I hope precious tradition emerging at Dixie.  Following our Christmas lunch and dressed in our Christmas jumpers the final afternoon will be spent by Sixth Form engaging in the annual 6th form Quiz.  For the rest of the school, we will be taking part in Christmas at the Dixie – just the second year we have done this, students have all opted for one of a variety of traditional (a walk, board games and movies) and not so traditional ( Yr 11 DT NEA catch up session) activities.  There are signs that this is becoming a strong tradition with watching Elf at the top of the leader board for students’ traditional Christmas at the Dixie activity.

I hope you all get to enjoy the traditions important to you and your families this Christmas and that those that no longer serve you well are replaced by new and improved ones. This is the final area of reflection for me – despite the very many things I miss desperately about ‘normal’ life nearly all of which centre around people, there are things that have had to change that I hope will stay changed forever.  I am enjoying my enforced relaxation over a weekend and for one will strive not to return to a situation where I am so busy seeing people and doing things all weekend I finish the weekend exhausted and ill equipped for the week ahead. I’d like to think our now traditional family film night will continue although my sons are sincerely hoping their days of being subjected to classic Rom-coms are nearing an end!

Perhaps the over-riding message here is to choose your traditions, make them ones that are right for you and your family accepting of course that some are out of our control.

With best wishes to you and your families.

Catrina Young, Deputy Head, Senior School

Duty

As an A Level Ethics teacher I have taught Sixth Formers about the deontology of Immanuel Kant for many years.  I can’t say it’s my favourite part of the course but taught it, I have. Deontology is a theory that puts duty at the heart of ethical concern – to do the right thing is to do one’s duty and one’s duty can be known through the Categorical Imperative.  That is, we know something is our duty if it would be followed by any fully rational being in the same circumstances.  

One of the challenges of teaching this as an ethical theory to young people has been to enable them to understand the acceptance of the concept of duty.  Their grandparents were familiar with this – the duty to fight for ‘King and Country’, the duty to fulfill their indisovable marriage vows, the duty to fulfill their roles as husband/wife/mother/father.  People of previous generations were steeped in their sense of duty.  I learnt only recently that Rudyard Kipling, that bastion of all things empire, made several appeals to the Ministry of War in order to enable his son Jack to fulfill his duty to go to war despite having been rejected for commission as a result of his poor eyesight.  However, as a rule, recent generations of young people have been less accepting of the duties ascribed to them – they would not fight for a cause in which they do not believe, they have challenged the notion of traditional roles for men and women and at the same time rejected the duties associated with those roles.   We have tended to talk more of rights and self fulfillment in recent years and I for one am pleased the balance has shifted. Men and women no longer feel the need to stay in loveless marriages out of a sense of duty, there is, I believe rightly, a greater emphasis on individual fulfillment & personal conscience. However, like all debates many would say the pendulum has swung too far and there has been not enough consideration of duty in recent times – people have been too focused on their own, instant gratification at the expense of their wider responsibilities.

This year the discussion with my Sixth Form ethics class about what we mean by duties and what duties we have, which took place in the very first week of lockdown and therefore as part of an online lesson, was was different – instead of the long tortuous road to accepting that we have some duties my students were quick to declare that we ‘have a duty to stay at home’.  This has led to me reflecting that the current situation with COVID-19 has, I believe, resulted in all of us considering our duties as a greater priority. The nation has acknowledged its duty to protect & value the NHS and frontline workers by staying at home and showing our appreciation on a Thursday evening. Individuals have responded to their duty to care for neighbours and the vulnerable – the 750,000 NHS volunteers are testament to this.

Schools are no different and we too feel a strong sense of duty in the current situation.  A duty of course to our students – to provide the very best education and pastoral support that we can in these challenging circumstances.  Of course as teachers we have a duty to stay true to our educational values despite the demand from some quarters to bow to pressure – there are some who would like us to run a virtual school day, with real time online lessons throughout the day – this would not be healthy for students or indeed staff and therefore we have, I believe, a duty to resist.  This demonstrates one of the key problems with a duty based ethics – how do we resolve situations when duties conflict – as a teacher my duty is to my students but as a parent of poorly children I have a duty to care for them also. These are very real conflicts that thousands of workers are facing every day at the current time.

One of the ways in which the Dixie feels it can and must respond to the current situation is by remaining open for the children of key workers.  Of course it would be simpler and cheaper for us to close the school site entirely but we feel strongly that supporting our parents to work on the frontline of response to COVID-19 is absolutely our duty and we are proud to fulfill it.  It is also as a result of our sense of duty that we are planning on being open for five weeks of what would usually be the summer holiday to offer childcare to our parents – hopefully by then the national situation will be improving and parents will be able to return to their businesses and workplaces; we will do what we can to support them.

Economics and ethics are uncomfortable bedfellows but are undoubtedly interlinked and the economic impact of this crisis cannot be underestimated.  Again here, the Dixie is very conscious of its duties. Fundamentally, always to provide the very best value for money that we possibly can; we are a charity and as such have a responsibility to allocate  the funds generated fairly, wisely and with prudence. Following on from this is a duty to maintain our business for current and future students of the Dixie; we’re biased but we do believe that we offer young people something very special. There really is a Dixie Difference, and it is vital to us that the Dixie is here when COVID-19 is a distant memory.  In the meantime however, we recognise that the current situation is unprecedented and results in real hardship for many families; we were clear it was our duty to reduce costs as far as possible and take advantage of all government assistance in order to offer the greatest possible reduction to the summer term fees in recognition of the difficulties families are facing, as well as the unavoidable impact on the children’s experience this coming term.
Many people have reflected that the current national crisis brings out starkly people’s individual personality types – as one who sits squarely in the optimist camp it is no surprise that I find myself  looking for the positives amongst this tragedy and for me one such positive is sure to be a host of new analogies and examples to use when teaching about Kant’s duty based ethics!

C Young, Deputy Head, Senior School

Praise

Whether through merit or effort badges or recognition in Gold Book assemblies at the Junior School, da Vinci awards, credits or presentation assemblies in the Senior School, or dialogue in the classroom, through encouragement and praise, pupils flourish at the Dixie and learn to become responsible for their own achievements and behaviour.
All of us thrive on praise – we all enjoy being recognised for our endeavours, and at the Dixie we understand the potent power of praise. We also know that to be effective it must be connected to a process, rather than intelligence or natural ability – we praise students for the progress they make rather than for just the end product. Effective praise provides students with the kind of positive reinforcement that builds on success, motivates them to learn, and increases their participation in class and school life.
Praise has its place in every single lesson at the Dixie; to reject it would be to encourage a clinical and cold environment. When well employed, it can motivate students and help build a positive and optimistic classroom culture and better relationships with other students. People can spot disingenuous praise a mile off, however, and students are no different; they know what constitutes their best efforts and if they are really striving to achieve it. If we want to inspire our students to believe they can achieve more we cannot afford to praise them cheaply. To motivate students – especially older students who are more discerning and better able to appreciate the differences between what is said and what is meant – teachers need to avoid praise that is not truthful … or has not been earned. Praise at the Dixie is based on high expectations – of behaviour, manners, initiative and involvement.
Sensitivity and empathy are also vital when considering how to praise students meaningfully. We all know the students who would curl up in embarrassment if they were acknowledged publicly. These are the young people who need quiet and focused moments of sincere praise. Our knowledge of individuals at the Dixie helps us to make informed choices about how best to motivate and encourage them.
In presentation assemblies in the Senior School we go to great lengths to praise expected attitudes and behaviours of students. Whether it is involvement in co-curricular activities, initiative shown through posting to the Ashworth Board, challenging school rules through attendance at the Student Council or even making an appointment with the Headmaster to take him to task on school recycling – where there is outstanding effort or contribution, this is acknowledged from the stage. Where our brilliant Sixth Form lead by example, this is highlighted – a recent example was the latest of the ‘Inspire Through Sport’ assemblies at the Junior School. Eleanor’s presentation, just like Jared’s, Dan’s and Chloe’s before her was inspirational in every sense of the word – she put herself out of her comfort zone and learned new skills – in front of an audience very few are brave enough to engage!

Dixie’s core values are reinforced through these assemblies and individual success and endeavour applauded – with a focus on the process and progress, not just the outcome. The da Vinci and Medici schemes have strengthened the process of acknowledgement and praise in school and have provided a clear framework within which students are now even starting to nominate each other – recognising and praising. Our approach also helps young people to learn to accept praise, so vital to self worth; too often people excuse and dismiss praise to their own detriment.
It is of course not just students who can benefit from considered use of praise, not just young people who thrive on acknowledgement; we should all consider using the power of praise more in our daily lives, to the benefit of all around us.

Freedom

This academic year is the first in which I have delegated the responsibility for conducting prospective parental tours in the Senior School to our upper Sixth. Invariably our guests comment on their maturity, articulacy, independence of mind and the extent to which they are proud of their school. Visitors always comment how struck they are by the maturity of those in our Sixth Form; I must admit, they are hugely impressive.

The youngest in our community – our Pippins – just starting on their 3-18 journey will become the 2034 Upper Sixth and will be just as impressive as our 2020 cohort, I have no doubt. Our Upper Sixth did not develop these qualities all at once in their final year, nor were they developed by chance. Students at the Dixie are drip-fed independence and responsibility from 3 to 18 to ensure they leave fully equipped with the discipline and resilience they need to successfully tackle the challenges ahead.

Education at the Dixie has been carefully designed – we have thought long and hard about our programme and we continue to challenge ourselves to ensure it matches the needs of students. In particular, we believe that allowing young people the space to make mistakes is a crucial ingredient in ensuring they develop these qualities. Consequently we:

  1. Don’t have CCTV cameras around school. The Dixie is not a prison and Senior School students are not watched constantly, but we do expect them to act responsibly whether or not a teacher is present. As they progress through the years from Year 1 to the Upper Sixth, we increasingly expect students to look out for and take responsibility for those younger than them.
  2. We advise and support parents to not ban children’s use of social media, but rather to control its use. Ultimately, we want students at the Dixie to be able to self-regulate their screen time – not possible if all access is banned.  We have a zero tolerance policy on the recreational use of mobile phones in school, except in the Sixth Form house, by which time we expect students to have mastered the management of their own screen time and their own decisions online.
  3. The many weekly academic revision sessions are well-advertised but are not compulsory. We expect Year 10 and 11 students to be able to manage their own learning outside the classroom and to seek help when it is needed.
  4. We encourage healthy eating, but we would not manage this effectively through the removal of all less nutritious options.
  5. Study time is not supervised in our Sixth Form. We would not equip our students for the academic rigours and freedom of university by removing all freedom; the development of self-regulation during free time is vital in the Sixth Form. That said, our Sixth Form are very closely monitored as the final freedoms associated with the last two years in school are drip-fed to them.

Our Forest School, DOSE, Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, co-curricular programme and World Challenge expeditions are central pillars in the development of these so called ‘soft skills’ of discipline, self-control and resilience and many more. At whatever age, the freedoms Dixie students enjoy come with responsibility, which in turn ensures they develop the skills necessary for the next stage in their education.

Mental Health at the Dixie Grammar School

Senior School Staff at the Dixie recognise that young people and adults alike face significant challenges to their mental health. The pressures resulting from examinations, puberty and the changes associated with secondary education are substantial and are further compounded by the presence of social media. Young people today face particular challenges online – to conform to behaviours, to seek and receive approval for image, lifestyle, choices etc. The national figures concerning mental health in young people are alarming and this understandably is of great concern to parents. Along with concerns about the rise in mental health difficulties among young people are very grave concerns about the difficulties faced by youngsters and the adults that care for them in accessing support services. As well as this, there is rightly a focus among professionals about how to prevent mental health difficulties. We are not believers in one-off programmes, catch-all cures or knee-jerk responses but this does not mean that we do not take the school’s role in preventing and responding to mental health concerns very seriously. Prevention There is lots of research that suggests that we can prepare our young people for the challenges of life by providing a balanced approach to life for them from their earliest steps. Experts tell us that we build resilience in children by allowing them to fail sometimes, by helping them resolve their own difficulties and by standing back on occasions whilst they work out their friendships, relationships with peers and elders. Of course, there are times when as parents it is exactly right that we step in to help our children and certainly knowing which situation is which is one of the real challenges of parenting. We recognise that mental health challenges exist in any and all circumstances – for the student facing a shocking life event such as a parental bereavement, the child with low self-esteem, a youngster experiencing identity challenges or the high achiever putting undo pressure upon themselves. Here at the Dixie the factors that contribute to building resilience include: Generous PE allocation compulsory until Year 11 – exercise is vital to good mental health. DOSE for Year 6 – team-building, outdoors education, problem solving activities. Emphasis on trips and outdoor education – managing the challenges of room allocations on a trip, sorting Duke of Edinburgh groups, being responsible for one’s own passports, staying with a family abroad, these are all mechanisms by which young people can learn and importantly test the skills needed for adult life. Strict rules in school and on school trips regarding the use of personal phones. PSHCE embedded in the curriculum Years 6 – 11. These lessons provide an opportunity to explore topics not covered elsewhere on the curriculum, including drugs and relationships education as well as to respond to difficulties within year groups as they arise. Balanced approach to exams – all year groups complete end of year exams which is good preparation for external exams but for students early on in their school careers there is very little fuss or stress associated with these exams by staff. Low key assessment of the teaching is the message. Increased formality associated with exams in the senior part of the school is appropriate and helps to prepare students for the demands of GCSEs and A Levels. Study Leave for Year 10 students and Year 11 during mocks also helps to prepare them for the ‘real thing’.

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