Mr Hooke is one of a handful of staff still working on the school site. In this Q&A, the Head tells us how he's adjusted to lockdown and how modern technology is keeping him in touch
(STOP PRESS: Our special Thank You NHS banner featuring pupils' assorted rainbows is newly erected on the front of the building and Mr Hooke has dropped everything to run out and photograph it for us. Many thanks to all who sent in their artwork)
Q: Many people are working from home during the lockdown, are you?
A: No, I’m one of just a few people who are still able to work at Harrodian. And essentially I’m sticking to my usual timetable. I’m at my desk in my office from 7.00am. in the morning until the early evening. Bronwen Lewis, our unflappable School Secretary, is keeping me company from the safe social distance of the School Office next door and she has my busy daily agenda and meeting schedule in hand.
Q: How do you feel about the Lockdown working routine?
A: It’s rather too solitary for my liking. If you read the blog account I wrote of ‘A Day in my Life in 2018’ , you’ll know that chance meetings, in odd places all over the school have always been part and parcel of my school day. Normally, at 8am in the morning and at 3.30pm in the afternoon, I make a point of being out in the courtyard or by the front door to greet and meet pupils and parents. And the rest of the day has always been punctuated by chance meetings with children in the dining queue, in corridors and classrooms, and on the playing fields. I’m still maintaining the wandering habit because our beautiful site is still looking lovely as ever and it’s a break from the office, but the chats I thrive on are missing. Currently the only chatter on offer is birdsong.
Our beautiful site is still looking lovely as ever and it’s a break from the office, but the chats I thrive on are missing. The only chatter on offer is birdsong.
James Hooke, Headmaster
Q: It sounds a rather lonely vigil?
A: Our staff and pupils are the people who make the school what it is. I’ve always enjoyed and valued the daily exchange of conversation with them both because it’s fun for its own sake and because it gives me an accurate barometer of what is happening and the way Harrodians are feeling. So I’m very conscious of the absence of that spontaneous exchange and I’m sure there are many Harrodians out there who feel the same way.
Q: How has Lockdown changed the way you work? What are you doing with your time?
A: I’m still doing a lot of the things that I would be doing anyway at this time of year – recruiting new staff and working on renewing contracts for next year, for example. The difference is that the computer screen has become the focal point for almost everything I do. Like many people, video conferencing apps were unfamiliar to me six weeks ago. Now they are what allow me to maintain contact with children. I’m reading a story to Reception and Pre-Prep 1 children and with Miss Horan, Head of Pre-Prep, co-presenting a weekly assembly. This week, our special guest was outgoing Head Boy, Kristjan, and last week, it was Head Girl, Arabella. They both sang brilliantly, below, to the children and answered their questions about what their roles involved.
Today, I’ve been conducting a series of recruitment interviews on-line and the routine weekly and daily meetings both big and small have also migrated to the computer. The week before last, we had our first ever on-line staff meeting, above, with 150 teachers and admin staff sharing the same virtual space for 25 minutes. It’s not ideal, but modern software makes virtual meetings much simpler than I’d imagined.
Q: So has lockdown changed your attitude to technology as well as improving your IT skills?
A: It’s certainly made me more tolerant of young people’s attachment to their phones. If a lockdown had taken place when I was at school we’d only have had three terrestrial TV channels and the telephone to fall back on. I know from personal experience how hard it is for teenagers around the house to stay motivated and positive without the support of their school friends in the classroom. But apps such as Instagram and Tik Tok do at least allow children to interact, converse and have fun with their friends and that takes a bit of pressure off them and their parents.
Q: Google Classroom has also made it possible to deliver full teaching timetables across all age groups. How is the remote learning going, do you think?
A: It’s a steep learning curve and digital learning cannot ultimately hope to live up to the real thing. But I think it’s going reasonably well. Our teachers have been working tirelessly to ensure that the quality of pupils’ academic experience remains high. And the quality and creativity of science and art work that has been showcased on the website shows just how engaging digital lessons can be. I’m very grateful both to pupils for being conscientious in their digital attendance and to parents for supporting and throwing their weight behind the programme.
Q; Lockdown inevitably has an unsettling effect on pupils, doesn’t it – especially on those GCSE and A Level students who have had their exams cancelled?
A: It's obviously deeply disappointing for students to find that the goalposts have been removed at the last minute, but I have been really encouraged by the resilience with which our senior students have responded to the disappointment of losing the chance to prove their skills and knowledge in the examination hall. Teachers tell me that A Level and GCSE students are buckling down without complaint and working really hard on the pre-university and pre-Sixth Form lessons and projects that their teachers are setting. Now the challenge is to continue honing our approach to remote teaching and to keep that level of motivation and energy high so that the 14s and Lower Sixth are well prepared for GCSEs and A Levels next summer.
One measure of the spirit of togetherness is the fantastic response we have had to take part in shared challenges and community initiatives on www.harrodian.com,
Q: Harrodian is a school renowned for its special sense of community. How do you think that is standing up to the challenge of our enforced isolation?
A: It’s clearly very much alive and kicking. One measure of the spirit of togetherness is the fantastic response we have had to take part in shared challenges and community initiatives on www.harrodian.com, among them the rainbow banner in support of the NHS (being attached on the front of the building as I write now) and the new call for recipes for a Lockdown Cookbook launched by our brilliant Parents’ Association . As usual, Harrodian pupils of all ages are queueing up to do their bit. To name just a few, there’s Sixth Former Ozan who has been manufacturing and distributing PPE masks, Ella-May who has been busy sewing together NHS scrubs bags and, most recently, Fynn who ran a full length marathon in his driveway to support the Armed Forces veterans' Charity, SSAFA.
When, in due course, our school is able to meet again and look back at these difficult times together, I am sure both that there will be many of our number who will be able to do so with a sense of achievement and pride and that the Harrodian spirit and our sense of community will be stronger than ever.