Talbot Heath successfully manage Remote Learning

How does one take a whole school community from onsite learning to remote learning in a matter of days? It was a hugely daunting prospect and one that every headteacher in the country has had to face in recent weeks. Never have teachers and senior teams had to respond so quickly in the most challenging of circumstances. Switching a whole educational model in normal conditions would be a massive task in itself, but doing so in a global pandemic, with many staff and pupils self-isolating took this to a whole new level. Planning and training was key. We took the decision to announce our switch to remote learning a week before the government declared lockdown. That week was spent with intensive training of all staff and pupils on Google Classroom, Zoom , Google Docs and Apple pencils. Staff set up online classrooms and resource centres for each group and tested out the Zoom facility within their classes before we went offsite. Those pupils already self-isolating , were able to join from home and, for a week , the whole school was a ‘ mixed economy’ of onsite and offsite learners and teachers.

Drama lesson via Zoom

This intensive training and planning was invaluable and meant that we were ready to switch, the moment the government announced that all schools were to close. The fact that we are an Apple Regional training centre, and have integrated iPads into all our teaching from Early Years to Sixth Form, meant that we had the infrastructure ready to go.

Our ‘ future-focused’ educational model meant that we had been preparing our pupils to be adaptable, independent and resilient for the past two years – little realising that the ‘future’ we had envisaged would turn out to be the present.

From the first day of lockdown, we have been able to deliver our whole curriculum and timetable, lesson by lesson, remotely- from morning assemblies to tutor times and charity fundraising.

Mrs Holloway Remote Assembly

So, what is remote learning like? Well, huge amounts can be achieved. Pupils took to video conferencing like ducks to water. They had no difficulty with the concept of group lessons conducted virtually. They learnt how to access tasks and submit work very quickly. For them, this environment was not at all alien. They were able to complete group tasks, individual tasks and assessments efficiently and effectively. Productivity among pupils has been very high. They have responded extremely positively to having structure in a lockdown situation and have produced work of an excellent standard. Pupils have problem solved and thought on their feet quickly, when presented with online challenges-often leading the way.

Apple pencil 4Staff have had to adapt more to master this new way of teaching and learning but have worked extremely well in teams to share new practice and resources. Methods have evolved from week to week, as confidence and competence has grown. Those who might once have feared purely online delivery of the curriculum, have realised what a huge benefit technology can be in a lockdown situation. Our digital leaders and Apple Teachers have led the way in each subject area and been a fantastic resource for training. Our extensive tech support team, who previously were pioneering our virtual and augmented reality teaching, have come into their own in a fully remote learning situation.

What lessons have been learnt? Teaching and learning all day in front of a screen is more tiring than in a school environment; levels of homework have been reduced down to a minimum, as staff and pupils need a rest in the evenings. Although work can be quicker to produce online, it takes longer to mark (even with an Apple pencil !) and staff are adapting to giving online audio feedback , as well as written. Social interaction through tutor time, assemblies and joint activities and ventures, is just as important as teaching and learning, in order to maintain a sense of community and coherence, especially when days can flow into each other and one’s sense of reality has been warped. Humour is more essential than ever before ( Mr Cradick, Assistant Head and Physics teacher, hula hooping in space to demonstrate zero gravity being a case in point). Physical remoteness does not have to mean emotional remoteness. Online communities have tremendous strength-pupils, parents, staff, alumnae and governors have been taking part in assemblies, supporting our PPE production initiatives, sharing ideas, inspiring others with their resourcefulness and inventiveness. They have been collaborating in a way that would not take place on a daily basis in the usual school setting. This has only served to enrich our community and provision.

I Cradick hula hooping in spaceRemote learning has changed the face of education forever. Much of what has been pioneered and used will be incorporated into learning going forward. Globally, we shall not return to how we educated before the pandemic, in terms of skills learnt and methods used. I can only see this as a positive. Education needs to be more forward-thinking. That said, nothing replaces the importance of the immediacy and vibrancy of a physical school community. So much of a young person’s self-esteem, character and values develop as a result of spending time with peers and educators. The value of schools and their communities has never been more apparent.

We may be remote but we are not apart.


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