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Desborough College turns virtual during lockdown

Desborough College principal Maggie Callaghan has outlined her plans to put pupils’ mental health at the forefront as she faces an unprecedented pandemic less than a year into the job.

Mrs Callaghan, who became the first ever female principal of the boys’ school in September 2019, says her pupils have been enjoying a mix between the curriculum and other activities to improve their wellbeing during lockdown.

As with other schools, Desborough has turned to the virtual world to offer students something different while the school is closed.

This includes an initiative called the ‘STAG award’, where students are given a weekly characteristic, such as ‘courage’ or ‘leadership’, and are then tasked with different challenges associated with these, to earn house points.

Other activities have been a virtual ‘Berkshire Games’, a joint coaching programme with Oxford’s Radley College, where Year 9s and 12s can interact, and weekly PSHE and assembly slots.

Video updates from staff and Q&A sessions have also been offered, while a virtual sports day and careers week are in the pipleline for July.

Mrs Callaghan said these moves enable students to have a break from normal work and look after their mental health as they spend a lot of time indoors.

“We have had a really massive push from the beginning on wellbeing, exercise and trying to get into a routine,” she said.

“One of the parents reminded me, that one of the things I said in my first video, is that the boys won’t remember what they learned during this period, but they will remember how they felt.

“It has just been so great, we have had some brilliant feedback from the boys.”

Another challenge for secondary schools during lockdown has been ensuring Year 6s transitioning from primary schools are ready for the jump.

A virtual site tour, videos from key members of staff, and interactive live sessions have ensured boys starting at the Shoppenhangers Road school in September are not hindered by the virus restrictions.

Staff have not been left out either, with regular online book clubs and catch-ups, including a weekly ‘happy hour’, complete with a quiz.

“It is about having the boys and staff at the centre of every single decision,” Mrs Callaghan said.

“All the information in the news and the continuous updates and speculation is exhausting, and real clarity has been really important from the beginning.”

As part of the school’s link up with Radley College, virtual music sessions will see the creation of a music video which will be distributed to different areas of the community, including care homes.

W Secondary schools were able to reopen for Years 10 and 12 from Monday, offering face-to-face support ahead of important exams next year.

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