Susan Marshall is the Headteacher at Cowling Community Primary School. Susan shares her experience in setting up an online education platform for her school in North Yorkshire to support her pupils and their parents learn from home after receiving funding from DfE.
Challenging though it has been, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot about the potential of online education platforms, not only how we use them to support our teaching practice but how they can help us stay connected to each other, to our pupils and their families. During the summer holidays last year, we received information from the DfE about the digital platform offer and the funding available from the Get help with Technology service. We looked into using Google Classroom, and linked up with an IT supplier (Vital) who took care of all the techy background requirements. In September we ensured all the children could access the platform and sourced training for staff as this was very much a brave new world for us all.
Here are three things we learnt along the way.
1. Learn from the best
Whilst we were set up and ready to go in September, we still needed training on using the platform. We were referred to the EdTech Demonstrators Programme and the training they provided has been absolutely fantastic. Demonstrator schools and colleges are a network of providers who have shown they can use technology effectively and have the capacity to help other schools and colleges do the same.
The collegiate support we have received from colleagues has been wonderful (with a special mention to Outwood Grange and Northern Lights!) and it is reassuring to know there is someone out there who has the answer! Teachers have been generous with their time and it has certainly made us feel well supported and inspired us to keep going.
At the start, we didn't really know what Google Classroom was. We didn't know its capacity or how it works until we had to use it. There can be so many little things which can go wrong, or you just want to ask a question. The willingness of schools to support one another has been really wonderful. We don't feel as alone and it's transformed my life from a leadership point of view as I can share and collaborate on documents so easily with my team. Plus, it's completely free!
2. Go online instead
The ongoing pandemic has meant that, like all schools, we have had to do things differently this year. When we suffered the closure of our first bubble, teachers were able to immediately provide live daily input through Google Meet, set work and feedback in Docs, create knowledge quizzes using Forms and keep the learning going for our children working in partnership with our families.
It also helped with providing feedback to parents and families. We ran family consultation sessions using Google Meet and these proved extremely popular with families as they found them so much more convenient - no scramble for a parking space or a childminder!
The only challenge we found for consultation evening was that, of course, it was not as easy to show families their child’s work. However, a huge bonus of going online was that it was more convenient for families and they always ran to time!
At Cowling, we have also used the platform to deliver celebration assemblies. Teachers are using Meets to read stories and deliver teaching input to children at home during the current lockdown. We quickly learned not to put all 30 children on a Meet at once, due to how excited everyone was at seeing one another! We now conduct Meets in small sessions of up to nine children which is more manageable and effective.
The Google Meet is definitely enabling our children to have more social interaction with their classmates than we were able to offer in the previous lockdowns and this aspect is much appreciated by our families. The Meets help keep the sense of “this is my class” and enables the children to feel connected even when they have to be apart.
3. Take advantage of the tools to solve your operational problems
An unexpected benefit to using a digital platform is the operational side of running a school, using Google Drive and Docs. From an SLT point of view, Google Drive has made the paperwork of school leadership less lonely! I can share and invite staff to collaborate on documentation which is so much quicker than emailing, downloading and printing.
Drive also means we can store curriculum documents, planning and resources in one place making them accessible to all. The children are also able to collaborate on a document and work together in a way they couldn't before. We now use Google forms to carry out staff well-being surveys and parent and carer surveys. These are easily created and the analysis is immediate.
It just makes life a lot simpler. We will certainly never go back to how it was before.
This technology opens up opportunities for the future post-pandemic
We took, what was for our small school, a giant step into using online platforms. We have learned rapidly how to adapt our teaching so it is accessible remotely and how to use the tools available through G-Suite.
There are so many advantages to a digital platform - many of which we would never have embraced had it not been for lockdown. I’m glad the incredible resources of Google Classroom were there and even more glad to have benefited from the Edtech guides who held our hands virtually and walked us through. I am extremely proud of how Cowling Community Primary School has rapidly responded to the demands of the pandemic and how teachers, children and our families have been willing to embrace change and ensure the learning continues no matter what!
Find out how to apply for government-funded support to help you access one of two free-to-use digital education platforms, G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education, at Get help with technology on GOV.UK.