Imagine if someone said to you at the beginning of the year: “In a couple of months you need to be ready to deliver remote learning to the majority of your pupils because the country will be on lockdown due to a global pandemic.” I’m guessing you would either laugh, cry or head to the nearest bar. (Remember those?)
And yet, here we are, just two months into lockdown, and school leaders like you are already adapting to this exact situation alongside the myriad of other curveballs COVID-19 has thrown at you. With that in mind, I wanted to share some ideas and resources which will hopefully make your life easier, as you continue to engage and educate pupils from a distance.
1. Use free support to help combat digital poverty
Firstly, many schools are using free cloud-based learning platforms to facilitate remote learning. You may have heard that the DfE is recommending G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education, and providing schools with funded technical support. If you aren't already up and running - learn more about both platforms and how to apply for funding here.
There are also DfE-funded laptops, tablets and 4G hotspot devices available for the most disadvantaged children to help combat digital poverty. You can find out more about this scheme, and how to get your disadvantaged pupils set up here.
2. Ensure plenty of face-to-face interaction
Once you and your pupils are set up on an online learning platform, check out the features that enable live interactions. For instance, Academies Enterprise Trust uses Google’s “Stream” function to deliver live lessons at 10 am and 11.15 am. You can also mix things up and boost morale by running live quizzes and games for pupils via Google Classroom.
One-on-one interaction with a teacher is also essential to not only learning but pupil wellbeing. Graham Macaulay from LEO Academy Trust shares how teachers in their trust video-call pupils to catch up and check in on how they're doing. He explains how "pupils want to see their teachers and have that sense of normality."
Everything feels up in the air for many, but having regular interaction that somewhat mimics a classroom environment can really help bring a sense of grounding at a time where this is much-needed for pupils.
3. Deliver flexible learning
While live classes are highly beneficial, some pupils may have commitments such as caring for siblings - and cannot attend every class. That’s where features like Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams come in handy. Teachers can upload pre-recorded lessons and assignments via these central hubs and provide a more flexible deadline for completion to those who need it.
Another wonderful thing about these hubs is that in some cases it is easier to deliver personalised learning to pupils. You can set tasks for a select group of pupils depending on ability, and use a variety of different media depending on what resonates most with pupils - from YouTube video instructions to written guidance.
Teachers can also deliver individual feedback to pupils, quicker, be it via live commentary on shared documents, video calls or voice recordings. For example, The Olive Tree Primary School in Bolton gives audio feedback, using the cloud-based app Showbie. Pupils upload photos of what they've done, and teachers add 'voice notes' so pupils can get personalised feedback – just like they would in class.
4. Let pupils collaborate with peace of mind
Even with all of the above in place - no doubt pupils will be missing that connection to their classmates. Therefore when using your online learning platforms - make use of the many features that allow pupils to collaborate on work tasks and talk to each other socially - such as video calling and group chats.
I know that letting pupils interact with each other via your school’s online platforms (especially whilst under your virtual supervision) may feel like a can of worms best left unopened! But with the right measures in place - safeguarding shouldn’t be an issue. For example, with both G Suite and Office 365 - you can either choose to sit in on video calls and set up calls so pupils can only join if the teacher has invited them. You can also adjust privacy settings to log messages and record all calls.
5. Have contingency plans in place
Lastly, there’s no escaping the fact that WiFi can fail us at the best of times and simply “turning it off and on again” doesn’t always do the trick. Therefore you should make contingency plans in the form of offline learning packs.
The headteacher of Dent Primary School, Nicky Edwards, shares how: “Because we live in a very rural and secluded area, not all households will have great WiFi. We overcame this challenge by sending out a survey to parents via ScholarPack, asking who needed us to drop off hard copies of the learning resources outside their homes.”
Indeed, you can use your MIS to regularly reach out to your parent database via letter or phone call to check in on what the WiFi situation is, and whether they need physical learning packs for their children.
There is a lot of unrest and uncertainty within the sector right now, and no-one is entirely sure how long partial school closures will last for. But in the interim at least, making full use of the free resources available will certainly make your life easier as you continue to teach remotely.
I’ll be back in the coming weeks with more sector insights. In the meantime, the team at ScholarPack would like to say a sincere thank you for all of your efforts to keep every child in education, be it in school or at home.