We have a very positive reputation for achievement, care and discipline at Chaucer and instil high expectations in all our students from the start. We also, however, recognise that students may face difficulties in life which can have an impact on their mainstream education. Often, these students are very vulnerable and might have special education needs or disabilities (SEND), mental health and emotional wellbeing issues, or short or long-term medical problems, which results in them being unable to come into school. These possibilities are, unfortunately, seen across all schools, and may lead to students being unable to access mainstream education.
Therefore, we work hard to ensure we support these students and create an inclusive environment, maintaining a very strong relationship with the local community and the families of our students.
As part of our inclusive practice, we look carefully at how we can support students who might be outside the classroom walls and provide them with the same opportunities as their peers. Also under the Day 6 Provision for excluded students, schools legally have to provide a suitable full-time education programme for students who can’t access mainstream schooling, therefore we thought about what alternative provisions could be used to support them and close the gap to learning.
We realised that a virtual learning environment (VLE) could be the answer. So, we began liaising with the team at EDLounge after visiting The Rodillian Academy and hearing about how they are using it to successfully provide an alternative learning provision for students. Coincidentally, a colleague also recommended the resource as he’d used it at his previous school!
While we initially used the resource to enable any students that might be at risk of fixed-term exclusion to access lesson material at home, we now also use it to support our vulnerable students too, including persistent absentees and those who are looked-after and live in foster care or children’s homes. We also used it to help students who might be unable to attend school for a certain period of time, such as one student who was involved in a terrible road accident and had to remain at home for a while.
More often than not, reaching students at home can be difficult, with work being provided in paper workbooks filled with activities and contact between the student and teacher being sporadic. Likewise, there might not be the instant support the student needs available in the household, and as a parent, it can be challenging to help your child with school work when you don’t understand it yourself. Therefore, it goes without saying that this is not an effective or efficient method of maintaining a student’s academic progress, monitoring their engagement with work, or supporting their reintroduction into the classroom.
Providing a VLE has streamlined the process by removing these barriers to learning and making it far easier for us to ensure that any of our students who are currently unable to access mainstream education are progressing academically and as an individual.
The students’ teachers and subject leaders are able to create personalised learning pathways for these students that imitate the curriculum they would have in the classroom using the platform itself. They can then monitor their work virtually and provide support and guidance for those students when needed; students have immediate access to an EDClass tutor, so help is always at hand. When a student is unable to attend lessons, a gap can begin to appear between their progress and that of their peers, so being able to truly bridge the gaps in learning is crucial.
The safeguarding of all our pupils is also a priority, and we had to take this into account with the VLE. Fortunately, however, the learning platform adheres to safeguarding policies, including an alert that students can use to immediately contact a member of staff and allows them to stay in constant contact with the school. We know our students are safe when they’re online and if they have any concerns, they know we are only a button away.
Boosting enthusiasm and attendance
Every teacher knows how hard it can be to get students motivated to learn, however the students who use the platform are entirely engaged by the way the curriculum is delivered and make fantastic progress.
It also greatly boosts their enthusiasm for learning, which is so important when it comes to reintegrating students back into mainstream education, and as a result, it’s often the case that these students return to the classroom within a short space of time. And as they’ve been following the learning that’s taking place in the classroom, the transition is easy for them as they return with the same knowledge as their peers.
For teachers, this also means that there’s no need to put aside an enormous amount of time to help bring that child back up to speed with what’s been happening in the classroom.
At Chaucer, we actively promote good attendance and have ‘attendance awards’ that encourage students to maintain a strong attendance rate. For example, we give them stamps, host ‘award breakfasts’ and take them on school trips to reward those students who have a good attendance record.
For those who don’t attend school, it’s often more difficult to monitor their attendance rate. However, having the VLE as a recognised educational provision, we can ensure the student at home is still able to receive a mark for their attendance. This is so important because, as an individual, it greatly boosts their self-confidence and self-worth, as they know that they aren’t excluded from the perks that can be gained and their attendance rate isn’t going to decline if they complete their work on the virtual platform. This means they can take part in our attendance awards, ensuring that they are still very much a part of our school and the inclusive environment.
An education for all
We want to ensure every student in our school, whether they’re within our classroom walls or not, is learning and truly achieving their potential. It’s our responsibility to provide alternative provisions for those students who might, unfortunately, be unable to attend mainstream education for a variety of reasons.
For us, the biggest benefit has been the ability to ensure learning, attainment and attendance are consistent for these students, as the end result is always to reintroduce them back into the classroom. The VLE removes any barriers for these students and closes the gaps to learning, by providing a learning environment that’s very similar to that of the mainstream classroom, but within an alternative context. Students aren’t anxious when they return to school, as they’re not worried that they’ve fallen behind their peers, and they’ve had the support and guidance needed to ensure that they’re fully prepared for the transition.
Every student deserves an education and the chance to fulfil their potential, so when hurdles are put in their way, let’s break them down and enable them to access the learning, support and guidance they need to ensure they’re on the right track to becoming a well-rounded and accomplished individual.
To find out how a VLE could help your school, visit EdLounge’s website.
Yasmin Celik is Associate Leader for Student Support/Safeguarding at Chaucer School.