Teaching and learning remotely over an extended period is extremely challenging for both staff and students alike. Since March, all schools have found themselves in an unprecedented situation. Students have had to cope without face-to-face contact with their teachers and find ways of making an online approach work for them; staff have had to use the resources available to them to develop an entirely new way of working and learn new skills remotely too. We have tried our best to adopt an approach that is fair and workable for both staff and students; not surprisingly, it has not always worked perfectly, but we have continually tried to develop it positively in response to feedback from students and parents.
In answering the questions below, we hope that you will have a better understanding of what our approach is and why we have adopted it.
Why are students not following a fixed timetable?
We considered this in March, but decided that a more flexible approach would work best. Rather than trying to replicate the structure of a school day at home, we think that most students benefit from being able to choose which work they do in which part of the day; this is especially important for families where sharing devices is necessary. It also allows students the chance to give larger blocks of time for more extended tasks without the interruption of having to leave them to go and work on other subjects (as happens sometimes in a typical day in school).
How will students know what they have to do?
We use Frog, our Virtual Learning Environment, to set students assignments. They should check this regularly. To access Frog, all you need is internet access. There is an also an app that students can use on their phone. All parents have a login to Frog as well, where they can see these assignments. In addition to this staff have been asked to post the class materials on the our bespoke OneDrive links so any students not in school for whatever reason can access the work and, at the very least, be cognisant of what has been covered in lessons.
How much work should students have to do?
We have asked staff to set classwork tasks that roughly correspond in duration to the lesson time that they would have in school. In addition they have been asked to set assignments via Frog (at least fortnightly) so as to track progress and provide feedback.
How often will students receive their assignments?
Class work tasks can be accessed daily and assignments will be set, as a minimum, fortnightly. In most cases the frequency will increase for sixth form where two teachers share a class and deliver different elements of the course.
How will new subject content be taught remotely?
We decided after Easter that all subjects would move forward with the teaching of ‘new’ curriculum material and course content. There is no single strategy that is the right one for all subjects, given their differences, but we have decided that PowerPoint presentations with narration and annotation are the best means of doing this; staff have been strongly encouraged to use this technique, and have therefore been given detailed guidance as to how to create, store and make them accessible to students. This will allow students to hear their teachers’ voices, and have key information on the slides pointed out with tools such as highlighters and laser pointers –much like they would do in the classroom. However, this approach is only advocated where there is the capacity of staff to create these new resources e.g. if a whole year groups has to self isolate and staff will have lesson in their timetable where students are not in their lessons.
What can students expect in terms of feedback from their teachers?
In March one of our main concerns was that students might not get work set to them if a subject teacher was ill (we didn’t know how many staff would be affected), and another was that inconsistency might become an issue with what was set for different classes in the same subject. We therefore adopted a “gatekeeper” approach where the head of department or a delegated teacher was responsible for setting the work to a whole year group in the subject. While this system did succeed in meeting its objectives, it became clear in the weeks after Easter that in some cases it made the giving of feedback to students inconsistent, as it wasn’t always their own teacher setting the work. With staff illness not significant and communication within departments working well, we have therefore moved to a system where the class teacher for each subject will set all the assignments (with the guidance and oversight of the head of department), and will give feedback at least once per fortnight.
What should students do if they have difficulties with their work?
They should seek support by contacting their teacher using their school email account or add comments or questions via the facility on each assignment in frog.
Why are lessons not being livestreamed?
We were initially very cautious about delivering live lesson for several reasons. We are very aware that families have a considerably varied level of availability of devices at home for their children to use, and that some are finding it difficult to manage the competing demands of their children for access to them. Having to be online at specific times for specific lessons means a lack of flexibility for students (and for staff, especially those with children at home) and has the potential to complicate things still further for them. An additional reason for caution was guidance that raised some safeguarding issues with the use of livestreaming.
All that being said we have overcome most of these issues and concerns and, after extensive trials in the summer term, are now able to safely and securely provide Live lessons via MS Teams. These will be ‘Events’ in KS3 and KS4 and ‘Meetings’ in KS5. Each year group (on the event of a whole year group doing remote learning) will have a timetable of 4 sessions a day. This does not mean each student will have 4 sessions a day just that each department will have the opportunity to deliver at least one session a week. The sessions will be to consolidate and revise the Remote learning Tasks and not be replacement lessons.