Open-day season is now in full swing, but how do schools show off their best bits during a pandemic? Charlotte Phillips finds out
While this new school year is unlike anything to have gone before, schools have been working flat out to ensure that open days – that autumn term highlight of educational life – are still taking place.
Inevitably, school tours and visits will look different. Where schools are managing to offer physical visits to schools, the priority is keeping everyone safe, with small scale tours replacing headteachers’ addresses to packed crowds in the school hall. Other schools have taken everything online, investing substantial effort to capture every aspect of school life on camera.
And schools are are quick to reassure parents that online or otherwise, their visit to schools and colleges will still give them a true flavour of what life there is like.
At Impington Village College, open days season “is one of our favourite times of the year when there is an electric atmosphere around the College grounds,” says Principal Victoria Hearn. While this year things are going to feel different, she and her colleagues have thought long and hard about how best to convey the excitement and energy that makes the college such a special place to be.
The solution? A series of virtual open evenings and question and answer sessions for students and parents. These will be split into groups, making each event feel more personal and giving a strong sense of the College’s strong community spirit. Virtual visitors will also have the chance to hear from current students. And, to give the events a real buzz, a large part of the events will be broadcast live.
For prospective students and parents needing more in-depth information or wanting to discuss pastoral issues, the College will also host one to one meetings with tutors – as well as holding some pre-booked individual tours of the college site. For potential sixth form students, secure face-to-face events are also planned.
That detailed level of planning is also a feature of the forthcoming virtual open mornings at Bishop’s Stortford College. After registering, families can access a virtual visit portal with videos that include virtual tours and current parents’ views of the school. Parents will have ‘fly in the doorway’ views of classrooms to get a flavour of what’s going on. “They’ll see us operating and teaching successfully in the current climate, interwoven with pre-Covid images,” says Marketing Manager Sarah Gowans. And with the online content designed, she says, “as closely as possible to replicate the experience they would have had on campus,” all that’s missing is the marquee serving tea and cake!
They’ll see us operating and teaching successfully in the current climate
After thinking long and hard about how to structure their open events, King’s Ely made the decision to continue to invite families into the school. “At King’s Ely, we love nothing more than welcoming prospective pupils and their families into school for a tour of our facilities,” says Jordan Day, Head of Media and Public Relations at King’s Ely. “We are delighted to say that we are going ahead and holding open events this September, October and November.”
Inevitably, because of stringent Covid-19 restrictions, things will be different. But while visitors will be toured in ‘safety bubbles,’ the essential essence of the school will still come across, says Jordan Day. “We are confident that they will still get to see a lot of what King’s Ely has to offer and that they will get a strong sense of our warm spirit and community.” While pupils won’t be leading school tours, members of staff who know the school and its pupils inside out will be on hand to provide the insights, anecdotes and history that bring the school alive.
When it comes to getting the best out of these new look open events, the advice to parents is to think ahead and know what they want to get out of them. “We would recommend that students and parents think ahead of the events to areas and topics that are important and of interest to them and come armed with a list of questions,” stresses Victoria Hearn. She suggests that parents focus not just on the academics but other aspects like wellbeing, pastoral care and extra-curricular activities. “Of course, results are important, but ensuring a school, college or sixth form is providing the right support in order for a child to achieve their dreams is just as important.”