You are here:
Remote learning: how to choose and evolve your approach
Your remote learning approach might be about keeping a connection, re-creating the classroom online, or maintaining a sense of normality. It might also develop as time goes on. Find out how other schools and trusts have decided on their approach, and how to shape yours to fit your learning ambitions and context as this situation progresses.
- Reflect on where you are and how you want to move forward
- Keep these questions in mind
- Look at the approaches that similar schools and trusts are taking
- 'No new content or remote teaching – focus on wellbeing and welfare'
- 'Remote teaching but "all about the connection", not new content'
- 'Some real-time teaching; new learning on non-core knowledge only'
- 'The curriculum continues as usual, including new content and timetabled lessons'
Currently, the DfE expects all pupils to return to school in September. However, if you stay on top of remote learning you'll be well-prepared to help pupils learn at home if they need to self-isolate, and to continue education for all pupils in the event of localised school closures.
There's also still a possibility that blended learning will need to be in the mix for September (e.g. with teachers in fixed 'bubbles' delivering some lessons to pupils in other bubbles).
Reflect on where you are and how you want to move forward
When it comes to approaches to remote learning, schools and trusts are on a spectrum. Most aren't staying fixed at one point – they're moving along the spectrum and adapting as time goes on, based on what works for their school community.
You can use this spectrum to help you identify where you are now and consider how you'd like your approach to evolve.
Keep these questions in mind
The school leaders we've spoken to have developed their approach by asking themselves the following questions. Use these to guide you when deciding on your approach, and keep them under review so you can adapt your approach to suit changing circumstances, if necessary, as time goes on.
What level of access do our pupils have to devices and connectivity?
This is the biggest issue to consider, to make sure your approach doesn't widen the disadvantage gap. If all pupils have their own devices and good internet access you can be fairly ambitious with online learning. If some pupils don't have this kind of access, your online learning needs to be more flexible, or blended with offline learning.
How much can we ask of our parents and families?
Consider your school community context. If you have parents who will struggle to support children with learning at home, your approach needs to be focused on independent learning. If many of your parents are working from home, you'll need to focus on keeping children occupied and entertained while learning, so parents can work.
How much can we ask of our staff at this time?
Consider the challenges facing your staff who are working remotely. If some teaching staff have childcare responsibilities, consider an approach that allows them flexibility to work at different times of the day. If staff have limited access to devices or connectivity, consider more of a blended approach. Ask your staff whether they'd be comfortable with doing 'live' teaching, if this is something you're considering.
Do we want to consolidate existing knowledge, or teach new content? If new content, what type?
It may be possible to teach new content if all pupils and staff have full access to devices and connectivity, parents are on board, and teachers are confident with 'live' teaching safely
This is a big decision, and you'll want to base it on how much your teachers are able to support pupils remotely.
Some schools aren't teaching any new content – because "home learning isn't the same as school learning” they're focusing on reviewing and consolidating what teachers have already taught. Other schools are teaching some new content, but only where staff feel it's appropriate for pupils to encounter new concepts for the first time at home, e.g. where misconceptions are less likely.
It may be possible for teachers to cover new content as they would in school, if all pupils and staff have full access to devices and connectivity, parents are on board, and teachers are confident with 'live' teaching safely. If you don't have this level of support available for your pupils, teaching new content probably wouldn't be a good idea for your school.
Is this approach sustainable for everyone – pupils, parents and staff?
We simply don't know yet how long remote learning in some form, for at least some pupils, will continue for. Whatever you're asking of staff and families has to be sustainable for the long term. It might be helpful to imagine how your approach will work weeks or months from now.
Is this right for all children in our specific context?
Whatever approach you take, consider how it will apply:
- Across all the stages of education you cover (e.g. including nursery, or sixth form)
- For children with specific needs, e.g. special educational needs or disabilities, English as an additional language, or behaviour issues
Are we getting this right at the moment? Ask your school community ...
Survey parents and pupils to find out how your approach is working, then 'step up' or 'step down' what you're doing based on their feedback.
Monitor pupil engagement with your learning materials and chosen digital platform, too; if pupils aren't accessing them, or aren't completing tasks, find out why this is and what changes you can make.
Look at the approaches that similar schools and trusts are taking
Every school context is different, but seeing what others in similar circumstances are doing will give you reassurance that you're on the right track, or confidence to try something new.
Take a look at the range of approaches below, and why these schools and trusts are taking the approach they are – from the most hands-off to the most involved. We talked to these schools in April 2020.
'No new content or remote teaching – focus on wellbeing and welfare'
Our families are struggling to make ends meet and have limited access to technology. Daily online learning or 'live' teaching simply wouldn't be possible
Parklands Primary School is in a very deprived area and many parents are struggling to make ends meet. 40% of the school's pupils have limited access to devices or the internet – many are sharing devices at home and data is limited – so daily online learning or 'live' teaching simply wouldn't be possible.
The school doesn't want to put unnecessary pressure on parents who are already in challenging circumstances and who wouldn't be able to replicate the support pupils get from teachers in school.
So, at Parklands, the focus during this time is on supporting the wellbeing and welfare of pupils, their families and staff:
- Teachers set some learning activities, but they're completely optional and are all about keeping children busy and having fun
- Parents are encouraged to spend time with their children, find the learning opportunities in everyday activities (e.g. cooking and learning through play) and focus on looking after their physical health and mental wellbeing
- Staff are focusing on their own wellbeing and safeguarding pupils (e.g. phoning home to check up on families, and delivering food hampers), rather than teaching and setting work
- Where teachers do set work, they aren't expected to spend a long time on it: "there are so many online resources to choose from, I'm not asking my teachers to do anything from scratch" says headteacher Chris Dyson
'Remote teaching but "all about the connection", not new content'
Using YouTube videos, Twitter and email works best for keeping our community connection, as many families rely on a smartphone and many pupils don't have their own device
At Mayflower Community Academy, headteacher David Sammels and his team are keen to keep pupils and parents feeling emotionally connected to their teachers and the school community.
Many families are accessing remote learning via a smartphone and many pupils don't have their own device, so using YouTube videos, Twitter and email works better for them than a full online platform.
So, to keep this sense of connection at Mayflower:
- Teachers record videos, which are shared with pupils via a daily email newsletter to parents. The video content is up to the teachers – they can be anything from teaching instructions explaining a learning activity, to sharing a story with their class or showcasing pupils' work
- Teachers and parents are active on Twitter – teachers use it to set learning activities and give feedback and praise on what pupils have completed; parents use it to share photos or videos of their child's home learning with their teacher
- Teachers don't cover any new content – learning activities are designed to keep pupils' minds active and to remember what they've already learnt to avoid gaps in knowledge
- The headteacher does an informal, daily Twitter live-stream called 'Tea at two' to keep parents up to date and answer questions
Read more about Mayflower's approach in our article on how schools are using video to support remote learning.
'Some real-time teaching; new learning on non-core knowledge only'
We want to reduce the load on 'parents as teachers', but make sure that knowledge gaps now don't slow down later learning, and that the disadvantage gap doesn't widen
Leaders at the Ark Schools trust believe that "home learning is not equitable" and want to reduce the load on ‘parents as teachers’. “We know that we can’t replicate school at home” says Lauren Thorpe, head of data, systems and improvement.
Knowing that not all pupils in the trust have the devices, connectivity, or parental support to learn as effectively at home as they would at school, leaders have adapted their expectations for learning at this time. They also want to make sure that gaps in knowledge now don't slow down later learning and that the disadvantage gap doesn't widen.
So, all Ark schools, across all phases, are following a version of the trust's normal 'Ark Base Curriculum', heavily adapted for home learning – 'ABC@Home':
- Home learning mainly focuses on practising – pupils revisit and build on concepts and ideas that are already familiar to them, developing fluency and confidence in what they already know
- Teachers aren't teaching new content unless all pupils have the technology they need to do this
- Any new learning focuses on non-foundational/core knowledge, because not all pupils will learn as effectively through an online and independent learning approach. The trust asks its schools to think carefully about whether it’s appropriate to introduce pupils to new knowledge and concepts remotely, and encourages a focus on 'low-stakes' content that's less likely to come up in an exam
- A small number of Ark schools choose to do some real-time learning using Microsoft Teams (part of Office 365 Education), but only where all pupils have access to the technology and connectivity. They aren't replicating a full school timetable
Read more about the trust's approach, here.
'The curriculum continues as usual, including new content and timetabled lessons'
We're keen to keep familiar routines to give pupils a sense of normality, and want to avoid children falling behind in their learning
Leaders at Windsor Academy Trust decided that, for their pupils and families, it was important to stick to familiar routines to give them a sense of normality, and they didn't want children to fall behind in their learning. Across its primary and secondary schools, the trust's approach to remote learning aims to replicate the classroom as much as possible, using the features of G Suite for Education, so that learning and the curriculum can continue as normal.
"We're aware that this is ambitious!" says Dawn Haywood, Deputy CEO of the trust. "When we first launched online lessons [for older pupils], we had a lot of pupils 'absent' – we phoned home for every one, and we had everyone logged on and learning by the end of the day."
To facilitate this:
- The trust bought Chromebooks and dongles for all pupils and staff who needed them, so everyone has full access to online materials and platforms for remote learning
- For pupils in years 5 and 6, and all year groups in the secondary schools, teachers run their normal timetable:
- Pupils are expected to log in to Google Classroom daily, and complete assignments during their normal lesson times
- Staff teach new content through 'live' lessons, set the same amount of work and have the same expectations as when pupils are in school
- Teachers set differentiated assignments and provide feedback through Google Classroom, just like they would in school. Pupils respond to feedback, too
- For pupils from early years through to year 4, teachers provide timetables that fill normal school hours, and home learning activities to download, via year-group websites (created using Google Sites)
- If pupils aren't engaging in the remote learning, staff on the leadership team phone home to find out why this is and how they can support the pupil and their family
Keen to see more approaches in action? If you use G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education, or are thinking of making the move, take a look at how 4 primary schools and 4 secondary schools are making excellent use of these digital platforms.
Or, want to sign up for the DfE-funded set-up support for your chosen platform? Apply directly via our digital education platform hub.
More from The Key
Evidence-led training courses that make it easy to upskill staff, anytime, anywhere.
CPD Toolkit is the most effective way to virtually deliver evidence-led training and support the professional development of your staff. Downloadable courses and online 5-minute summaries provide flexibility for training, whether staff are participating as skeleton staff in-school, via video call or individually at their own pace.
The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.