With a vision to gain greater insight into what her students were thinking and considering in terms of their future career paths, whilst also wishing to support her own role in respect of meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks, Debbie Crossley of The Bolsover School in Derbyshire, was keen to invest in a solution that would cover academic and vocational pathways and, ultimately, stand the test of time.
With her SLT on board and the go-ahead given to move forward, Debbie was looking forward to introducing her chosen solution, Xello, to the Bolsover students. Then COVID-19 hit and UK schools were forced to close. Here, she outlines her experience of implementing new software during times of such uncertainty and some of the unexpected benefits it brought.
Having put so much time and thought into what we needed a new careers platform to deliver, not only for the students but also me and the wider academic team, I was keen to start reaping the benefits straight away.
However, with an overnight shift to remote teaching and learning, it initially felt like the wrong time to make such a move – after all, such a large part of careers education is based on the personal touch via one-to-one interaction and, therefore, placing greater reliance on a digital resource felt slightly uncomfortable. However, with the investment made, it was important to start realising its value and I soon appreciated that there could be tangible advantages to be gained by the very fact that the students weren’t physically located within the school.
During my research into a new careers solution, I knew that it needed to offer an exciting interface so that the students would actively engage with it. This became even more important once we headed into lockdown so as to avoid a lack of motivation creeping in.
What I soon discovered was that as digital natives, our students were already comfortable with finding their own way around a new and intuitive system and, in fact, relished doing so as it provided them with a high degree of freedom and autonomy.
Incredibly, we witnessed over a third of our students logging on to the new system in the early days of the lockdown with some even logging on over the weekend – something that would normally be unheard of! Importantly too, overall engagement in careers education amongst our students is up by 19% and I can see this is entirely because of the interactive content, consisting of both lessons and assessments, which has reignited a flame within them at what has undoubtedly been a challenging time.
“What I soon discovered was that as digital natives, our students were already comfortable with finding their own way around a new and intuitive system and, in fact, relished doing so as it provided them with a high degree of freedom and autonomy”
Whilst engagement is vital, the true value has been in witnessing student progression. The relative freedom that we’ve given the students to explore the platform independently has resulted in significant levels of exploration around different career areas, the pathways to these and, importantly, what personal skills and attributes they may have that lend themselves to certain opportunities. Self-awareness has, undoubtedly, been strengthened and this will support the students in making good decisions moving forward.
Of course, this experience hasn’t been without challenges. As with all aspects of delivering the curriculum remotely, there were obstacles to be navigated and as a school in an area of relatively high deprivation, some of our students didn’t have access to laptops. In these instances, I had the opportunity to invest the time I had freed up from reporting and developing careers content in providing non-digital resources to those students who required them.
This will be important moving forward. Whilst the digital delivery of such a significant part of our careers programme proved invaluable during the lockdown and delivered some great results, we will take a blended approach once school resumes and I’m particularly looking forward to the real-life interactions that we’ll be able to enjoy once more – the benefit being, of course, that the insights I’ve gained during this experience will enable me to personalise those interactions even more than before.
Whilst the prospect of starting something new back in March was daunting to say the least, I don’t doubt that the students at The Bolsover School have grown and developed in ways that they might not have done had we not been forced to transition to remote learning by the lockdown.
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