Amidst the nation’s third lockdown, hopes of a quick return to the traditional education approach this term have been dashed – albeit with one significant exception. While schools around the country may be physically closed to all but the vulnerable and children of key workers, their online doors are wide open and, for the majority, learning continues across the UK.
And that’s not to be sniffed at. In fact, the government’s decision to move schools, colleges and universities online – for all but a few – is testament to the education sector’s seamless digital transformation over the course of the last year. While the first lockdown presented challenges to teachers and school leaders that were tricky to address, a lot of those teething problems have now been overcome and schools are now much more au fait with all things remote learning.
But there are still challenges ahead – and those don’t go away once the virtual bell rings for the end of the school day. Although many institutions already laid the groundwork last summer, ensuring they can easily create and manage remote learning environments, many of these solutions were temporary or designed without the flexibility of having some pupils in the classroom and some at home.
Now that it’s a requirement for schools to be able to teach remotely, it’s crucial that these solutions become an integral part of the education system.
Identify an IT partner and develop an effective IT strategy
From working with external groups such as private tutoring organisations and Ofsted inspectors, even to temporary teachers, it’s especially important that there’s an effective IT strategy in place so that everyone, not just students, can effectively access resources. It’s therefore crucial that schools sit down with their IT representative(s) to work out their needs and current limitations.
To help expedite this process, many schools are choosing to partner with a technology provider that can guide them through. A partner can create and manage the technology solutions within a school, letting the school focus on what they do best: providing quality teaching.
Be confident in your strategy
Though many schools now have some form of remote learning solution in place, many are yet to view it as a cornerstone of their education strategy. And why? Simply because few considered that an option before the pandemic, and then had little choice but to implement it at pace in difficult conditions.
However, with the pandemic ongoing, to reassure parents and governors that these solutions are fit for purpose, schools must be confident in them themselves. By being transparent about the steps being taken and technologies used to enable remote learning, key stakeholders such as parents and governors are more likely to be invested and involved in the school’s strategy.
Similarly, opening up a remote learning solution to suggestions from the users – teachers and pupils – will also help include them in any change. For instance, perhaps utilising Microsoft Teams for parents evening, or using a Google Docs form to collect key information from parents, are ways that schools could help everyone embrace these new digital solutions.
“By being transparent about the steps being taken and technologies used to enable remote learning, key stakeholders such as parents and governors are more likely to be invested and involved in the school’s strategy”
Tech that just works
Critically, having a remote platform is of no value unless your pupils have the devices to access it. This has been a particular challenge, despite the DfE providing almost one million laptops for the more disadvantaged children in schools. But even then, there are issues. One of the biggest barriers that teachers will encounter on this journey to remote learning is technology not working, or being slow, when it should just work. Recent research from BESA suggests a third of computers in schools are ineffective due to age, specification or conditions. And it’s worth noting that the more modern a school’s devices are, the smoother and faster they work, and the easier they will be to use. If teachers can’t rely on the devices underpinning a remote learning strategy, then that strategy may as well not be there.
Throughout 2020 and beyond, schools across the UK have embraced change under the most difficult of circumstances. They are now much more accustomed to using technology in the classroom, and the commitment to remote and blended learning will allow pupils to prepare in advance, to collaborate online with fellow students, and make the most of classroom time.
Whether facing a future pandemic, or simply combatting a local problem such as bad weather, having an established remote learning platform in your school will ensure that teachers can keep teaching and pupils can keep learning.