Effective remote education: A case study

Written by: Shane Ierston | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The migration to a world of online learning since March has challenged us all. From digital break-out rooms to escape game challenges, principal Shane Ierston discusses his school’s work and the approaches that they have found to be effective

Since March 20, King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington has taught more than 20,000 hours of synchronous lessons weekly, despite the fact that no pupils or staff were able to enter the building.

Having followed global developments, the school’s leadership team had prepared to migrate all learning, staff training and pastoral care into the cloud. We physically closed, but the community’s love for learning continued digitally. A plan was put into place that equipped staff and students for online learning.

Since then, we have been inundated with messages from parents and pupils and their gratitude is humbling. We have seen whole families participating in PE lessons from their living rooms and coordinating online wellbeing support has strengthened our community spirit even further.

Parents have explained that maintaining the routine and expectations of the school day has allowed them to navigate the crisis and provided them with some essential normality.

The school’s attendance stayed at high levels throughout the Covid-19 lockdown (more than 97 per cent across all lessons and year groups). We credit this to strong pastoral and support systems which have ensured strong safeguarding and wellbeing throughout the crisis. Even though it was announced that terminal exams would not be taking place for year 11 and 13 pupils, this did not stop those lessons from continuing either.

The school was recently named as one of the Department for Education’s Ed-tech Demonstrator schools and now we now look forward to sharing practice developed during lockdown with other schools to help close learning gaps.

Below is a summary of the areas where we are using technology to accelerate learning.

Leading online learning

We researched both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. We found that synchronous learning was the most effective, due to its potential to offer live feedback when children fall behind, close gaps and maintain positive relationships with the teacher.

We adopted Zoom as a means to deliver face-to-face lessons led by subject teachers. The technology has a wealth of tools that we have been able to develop in online classrooms, such as “hands-up” to participate in questioning and discussion or “yes/no” polls to ascertain pupil opinion or understanding.

Alongside the teacher’s delivery of lesson, we have utilised the display of resources such as videos, slides, quizzes just as we would in school.

As practice evolved, teachers were applying game theory to enhance their pedagogy in ways never before possible in a traditional classroom setting, with lessons being delivered using “escape room” theory, requiring students to apply knowledge to a number of problem-solving situations, drawing together schema and cultural understanding to an interactive assessment challenge, which provides immediate formative feedback to support the teacher’s work on closing gaps.

Strengthening accessibility and inclusion

We found a wealth of opportunities to support our SEND pupils remotely. As with all pupils, they have really benefited from the live, synchronous teaching as they have well-established relationships with their regular teachers.

Teaching Scholars (pre-School Direct graduates) also joined our online lessons and worked with the pupils in a number of ways, just as in a traditional classroom.

Our approach included the use of “digital break-out rooms”, whereby teachers or support staff could work with small groups of pupils to address misconceptions in knowledge, provisioning students with additional, tailored instruction in a small setting during the lesson. We found this powerful formative tutoring dramatically accelerated learning.

Staff also developed the use of the “chat-box” feature, which encouraged greater interaction between pupils and teacher in ways not possible in a regular classroom. From this it was possible to strengthen questioning styles and encourage greater engagement, which has resulted in more reluctant learners developing disciplinary confidence.

Reducing teacher workload and providing effective feedback

When migrating to remote learning, a natural concern from staff and students was how they would capture their work. We realised that exercise books would not be feasible. Therefore, we opted to use Google Docs as electronic pupil workbooks.

This has been a revelation, which will continue as we return to school and develop our “new normal”. The live nature of these documents means that staff can access them as students are editing them, allowing powerful formative assessment to occur. Teachers can provide live encouragement to students, assess their thinking, address conceptual errors and share good examples instantaneously to the class or post directly to their work.

We have found that this saves a huge amount of time in the feedback process, which can be redirected again to closing gaps in understanding. Live documents also supplement the Teaching Scholar support, since they can be working across several student books. It helps them to ask interactive questions and prompt deep thinking through additional resources or scaffolds, ensuring that the child’s working memory is not overloaded in the online environment.

Pastoral care and student wellbeing

Alongside the academic systems and online teaching, we focused on pastoral care and attendance support to provide the same levels of consistency in our approach.

Our pastoral staff developed a “command centre”, which centralised diagnostic information on the children in their care. We used a range of digital trackers and management software (such as Bromcom to track student absences) to provide family support.

Digital tracking allows precise systems to be developed so that child absence triggers immediate intervention from school. We were able to train and redeploy office staff from the front of house to assist with sophisticated attendance tracking, freeing pastoral leaders to focus on safeguarding, student wellbeing and supporting key workers.

As a result, the school tracks the attendance of every child across six periods per day, continues with online assemblies to support wellbeing and a number of digital workshops to ensure children still receive the support they have come to expect physically when on site.

Student mentoring has migrated into the cloud guided by diagnostic data, speech and language therapy continues and form-time, rewards celebrations, year 11 leaving assemblies, year 6 transition and mental health sessions have all been hosted remotely.

Staff development and wellbeing

In the same way that we have delivered teaching synchronously online, we have also developed our approach to providing high-quality CPD for staff. The use of Zoom has meant that the audience of these sessions has broadened to include more schools across the Trust and new staff starting in September.

Staff have been able to share their ideas and teaching strategies with one another in the same way students have been able to in lessons, using break-out rooms, live shareable documents and interactive guides. Morning briefings and leadership link meetings have also continued, providing essential support to staff and ensuring they do not feel isolated working from home (we will be sharing all of this work through our Ed-tech Demonstrator programme).

Returning to school

The physical return to school will be very much welcomed as we are eager to see our students and work with them again. However, in the same way that Covid self-isolation and shielding has become part of our new normal, so will remote or blended learning.

Just as we are 100 per cent committed to ensuring no child is left behind during the pandemic, we remain dedicated to this mission as we return to school. Therefore, we predict a hybrid of physical and remote learning and are currently planning for that eventuality in response to the changing threats presented by the virus.

Most revolutionary events were preceded by crises. We see this unprecedented event in education as just that: an opportunity to create a new normal that responds to the exponential development of technology in our society and uses it to create successful citizens in a modern world.

  • Shane Ierston is principal of King's Leadership Academy in Warrington.

Further information & resources

  • SecEd: Back to School Guide: Teaching and learning, July 2020: Due to be published on July 15.
  • SecEd: Back to School Guide: Staff support & wellbeing, July 2020: https://bit.ly/3gB2Ved
  • SecEd: Back to School Guide: Student wellbeing, July 2020: https://bit.ly/3eTHR28
  • The Key: Advice and support to get your school online and make the most of digital education platforms, is available via https://covid19.thekeysupport.com/


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