In March 2020 all further education providers moved their learning online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Department for Education (the DfE) has worked with seven further education colleges throughout lockdown to understand and document aspects of their remote and blended learning practices which may help to guide and benefit other further education providers.
A series of case studies has been set out in the DfE guidance note ‘FE remote and blended learning case studies: Good practice developed during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic’ to highlight tools and resources available to further education providers and approved practices.
What can be learnt from the case studies?
The DfE’s guidance sets out ten case studies. The case studies outline challenges which have been faced by further education providers during Covid-19, and solutions which have helped to combat those challenges.
1.Supporting online teaching
As staff have varying degrees of confidence in using digital learning tools, they can be supported by the implementation of a ‘Framework for Online Learning’. Such a framework can help teachers to develop and adapt their thinking in relation to creating a productive learning environment and assessing students when delivering either wholly remotely or via a blend of online and on-site teaching. Staff can then share strategies amongst themselves to enhance the students’ experience overall.
In addition, support can be given to students by providing an induction into digital learning to ensure that all students have the confidence to engage with online learning. This induction can include videos and guidance to help with practicalities such as logging onto digital learning. In addition, students can be reminded of the expectations in respect of attendance, safeguarding and etiquette in the online setting.
2. Adapting the curriculum
Specific departments can identify barriers to overcome when teaching online. For example, an art and design department should consider: (i) use of sketch books and portfolios; (ii) access to art supplies; and (iii) students having adequate space to work to the best of their ability.
Once these barriers are identified, staff can work to overcome challenges. For instance, supply packs containing basic materials can be made available for safe collection by students, and assignments can be redesigned to incorporate online software as well as materials which can be easily accessed from home. By adapting teaching in this way, students can complete their work whilst enjoying a positive experience.
3. Supporting young people in the transition to A level study
September 2020 saw the progression of students from year 11 to A level. However, Covid-19 had caused an element of ‘lost’ GCSE learning. To support students moving into A level learning, tutors developed specific transition activities for students to work through during the summer, made available online. Students were also encouraged to engage with one another via a dedicated social media pages and were provided with a range of support and advice concerning health and well-being.
Taking such steps helps students to move forward in their education with confidence and with a sense of comfort that they were able to take steps towards their learning prior to the start of the new academic year.
4. Delivering a blended provision of on-site and remote learning
As the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has developed over time, further education providers have had to adapt to providing a blended model of on-site and online learning. This can be achieved by setting out a clear approach to maintaining existing timetables and replicating the in-class experience as fully as possible when teaching online. In addition, staff can use an intranet site to share experiences and access videos to help with the use of online tools.
Delivering blended learning in this way can help further education providers to quickly adapt to changing government restrictions with the least disruption to the learning experience of students.
5. Adapting provision for SEND students
During the recovery from lockdown, some further education providers were contacted by SEND students and parents who would prefer to continue their education remotely. As such, further education providers can introduce personalised timetables and support for online live sessions for these students, with personalised learning and opportunities for students and parents to give feedback on the online learning experience. At the same time, parents and students should be reassured that it is safe to return to onsite learning when the student feels ready.
In addition, where students are unable to take part in work experience programmes, workshops can be offered to develop students’ employability skills and virtual simulations can be used to give students valuable experience of working environments.
6. Reflecting to provide continued improvement to blended delivery
Using lessons learned from the first national lockdown in spring 2020 can help further education providers to develop and enhance a blended delivery of learning. Staff should be asked to reflect on their experiences of blended learning in order that strong delivery models can be proposed, and senior leaders can understand the challenges faced by each department.
Creating this reflective practice culture can enhance the student learning experience and increase online attendance of students.
7. Adapting online delivery for students with learning difficulties and disabilities
As learning moved online, it has been important for teachers to ensure that students with learning difficulties and disabilities are supported in a way which allows them to access their learning alongside their fellow students.
This can be achieved by using online real-time subtitles within lessons, making teaching notes and subtitled videos available, using an interpreter where necessary and, where possible, learning sign language. This can help students to feel more included and part of the group and build stronger relationships between students.
8. Establishing a vision for high quality online teaching, learning and assessment
In several cases, teachers have used a variety of technologies, such as email, WhatsApp, and social media, to teach remotely, which can lead to live online lessons sometimes falling into the background. To ensure consistency of teaching, further education providers can establish a strategy and vision for delivering online teaching, learning and assessment.
The strategy developed should include a level of mandatory, essential requirements for staff, such as producing accessible resources. Other requirements can be split into higher levels, such as a ‘silver level’ for all staff including services staff to understand the practical use of technology and supporting students online. A ‘gold level’ can be focused on teaching staff only, whereby teachers can take a Microsoft Certified Educator exam to enhance their online teaching.
9. Supporting staff mental health and well-being
Alongside the well-being of students, staff well-being and mental health should be supported so that they can continue to provide a high standard of teaching to all students.
This can be achieved in several ways: (i) specialist 1:1 support for both students and staff; (ii) equipping staff with the skills and expertise to enhance their own well-being; and (iii) creating on-demand thematic resources.
10. Helping SEND students to develop life skills from home
Balancing the educational needs of SEND students with their wider home life can be a challenge when teaching remotely. The following steps can be taken to enhance SEND delivery and ensure that students can continue to develop their life skills:
– Prepare a personalised strategy for supporting each student which is then made available to everyone working with the young person
– Adapting the curriculum to reduce social isolation and maintain a clear line of sight to work
– Using technology to enhance the curriculum
– Partnering and collaborating with parents and carers.
Whilst there is now a progression of students returning to on-site learning, it is still unclear how the Covid-19 pandemic will develop over the coming months. It is therefore essential that further education providers continue to review and develop their online and blended teaching methods to ensure that the education experience is of a high quality for all students, no matter their personal circumstances, should government restrictions limit on-site learning in the future.