With the ongoing school closures during the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, there has been an increased interest in how remote learning can be efficiently enabled with technology,to ensure high-quality learning for young people.
Sean Gardner is the founder of Gluu – an organisation focused on unearthing the best EdTech practice in schools/colleges and scaling them through a partnership with WE school Shireland Collegiate Academy.
Gluu is currently supporting Eaton Primary School, a DfE digital transformation case study school where Sean is Chair of Governors, and has more experience than most in the potential of online learning. WE spoke to him to find out more about the #EatonProject – and his advice for schools looking to ensure learning continues during closures
What is the Eaton project?
Eaton Primary School is a small rural primary school in Cheshire. The school was judged to be Inadequate by Ofsted in 2019 with progress scores worryingly low. A plan was put in place to turn the school around based on efficiently integrating EdTech to improve attainment, reduce staff workload and create a more collaborative learning environment. The school is now a Department for Education digital transformation case study school.
Gluu says that “the ‘shared goal partnership’ we have curated brings together schools, academia and lead players in the education sector (Microsoft, Discovery Education and HP) to effect a digital transformation”.
You can read more in Gluu’s blog series – this is a good place to start – but so far the school has seen encouraging signs of progress on their journey.
Spotlight: using technology to support effective learning and working
Eaton Primary has taken steps to help successfully embed technology across the school in the long-term…
The effective use of technology by the whole school was written into Eaton’s school’s 3 year Development Plan. This secured buy in from the top-down and ensured that the use of technology was treated and focused on as a priority.
They then rethought the way they structure their staffing team – saving money by reducing their TA hours. This created capacity to hire an additional teacher with significant EdTech experience, who is responsible for planning and leading the whole school’s use of technology.
This member of staff spent lots of time on the ‘pre-enablement’ to ensure the technology would be a success. This was a benefit of one person having responsibility and ownership of EdTech as a priority.
They did all this working in partnership with the existing staff group and focusing on ensuring they had their buy in. This meant they could make the changes without major turnover, giving stability to the school and pupils.
Spotlight: ‘Flipped governance’
Eaton Primary and Gluu also role-modelled a smart, tech-enabled way of working as a governing body
The school took a ‘flipped learning’ approach to governing body meetings, moving governance documents, policies and information on to their secure Sharepoint.
By taking some tasks that could be completed in advance through technology (like pre-reading of papers and other information sharing and updates) out of the governing body meetings, more time could be spent on decision making and having in-depth, supportive conversations around the school and pupils’ learning.
Having more time for deep and strategic discussions also meant the school was able to make better use of the governor’s different areas of expertise. For example, one governor is a fundraising expert. With more time for conversations on the topic, he was able to raise a significant amount of money for the school.
Using EdTech, the school can present clear visualisations of their data (for example, RAG dashboards of pupil outcomes to identify key trends), which will help to focus and strengthen the support the governing body gives the school.
Together, this has helped the governing body to role-model using technology efficiently to staff and pupils.
What is online learning – and what is it not?
Children are a lot further forward than you might expect – and a lot more proficient at using technology.
Existing technologies in school can be deployed to support learning from home with some simple adjustments. For example, the video below that the school kindly created for us shows how Eaton has adapted the way it uses Microsoft Teams to support the remote setting and completion of work.
Why do you think we have a perception that using technology well is difficult and sometimes a distraction?
Sean says that smart boards are a good example of this – “they were forced into schools when they weren’t ready and schools didn’t get any support with them either.”
Things are different now – much of the technology coming into schools is robust – Microsoft Teams, which they use at Eaton Primary, is extremely intuitive and matched to teachers’ needs.
What do schools need to put in place to make online learning a success?
Sean said the most important thing was rigorously planning, thinking through your practical implementation (especially during this crisis with staff falling sick, ensure your plans are robust) and then communicating that plan widely.
1. Communicating with parents
“There can never be enough communication with parents – they are understandably really concerned, so it needs really sensitive management.
Reassure them: we have a plan in place and this is what it looks like. If you don’t, they’ll get worried, and you’ll have to spend far more time dealing with questions and queries later on.
2. Supporting staff
“Tell teachers, and give them the professional development needed to prepare them. If you do, they’ll understand – at Eaton Primary we have run extra twilight sessions for teachers [helping take them through the way they will be working and making sure they’re confident] and there’s been no pushback. Everybody knows it’s a really challenging situation.
Navigating the EdTech market can be overwhelming – especially when so many companies are offering products free. What should schools be mindful of?
Sean urged caution amongst all the free offers of new products and services – in fact he argued although well-intentioned it could end up being very counter-productive.
The time needed to upskill staff so that they are confident and embed new EdTech solutions really effectively are long – at Eaton Primary, it typically takes from two terms to a year. Schools would also ideally start small before being cascaded.
Pushing lots of new products without adequate training or preparation looks more like a recipe for disaster. Instead Sean suggested looking at things your school already has and is using, that could be adapted for learning remotely.
You can see some of Eaton’s Microsoft Teams lesson ideas below:Microsoft-Teams-Example-Lesson-Ideas-Generic
Thank you to Sean, Gluu and Eaton for sharing their ideas and strategies so generously! Tell us how you have made a success of remote learning or used EdTech to support your school’s priorities on Twtitter: @wholeeducation #wholeeducation.