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The impact of COVID-19 on digital learning

Andrew Beavis

Andrew Beavis is Deputy Headteacher at Copthall School in North London. Now all children are back in school, Andrew describes how his school’s remote education model and DfE supplied devices continue to support students and have paved the way for a new digital strategy.

Despite being situated in an affluent area, our student body has 40% of pupils on Pupil Premium, 11% with SEND and 30% currently receiving FSM.

The biggest barrier that the school faced during both lockdowns was being able to consistently reach every one of our students because so many of them had limited or no access to a suitable digital device. We were allocated devices through the Get Help with Technology Service to support those students who were academically highly vulnerable or those who just did not have any access to a device or the internet. These devices quickly enabled us to support a broader range of students and meet all their needs while they were working remotely.

Now that we have returned to school, not only have the allocated devices enabled students who are self-isolating to join their lessons from home, they have also been hugely beneficial in supporting all students with aspects of their learning.

The remote education learning curve

To say remote education has been a learning curve for us over the last year would be an understatement! During the first lockdown, we set tasks via an online ‘homework platform’, requiring students to work through activities independently. There was low engagement with this model so, after a review, we opted for a blended learning model from autumn 2020 using Microsoft Teams. This allowed us to offer a mix of live and pre-recorded lessons, pre-allocated workbooks and lessons where part of the class was learning remotely whilst part of the class was receiving face-to-face teaching.

Blended learning is our 'new normal' this term

This blended approach has been the most successful and even now that all students are back in school, we continue to record/stream all lessons happening on-site via Microsoft Teams  for those isolating to ensure consistency. For those students, 70% of lessons are currently being delivered live, whilst 30% are independent activities.

Initially, engaging students was a significant challenge, particularly for students who already had lower engagement before the pandemic. We hoped that removing the technology barrier would ensure that all students actively participated in remote education, but this was not always the case. We aligned our online model with our standard school day and insisted that all students join a virtual form time every morning, which helped maintain over 90% engagement every day throughout the most recent school closure. We also sent daily targeted communications to parents to keep them involved and we prompted students with targeted questions throughout our live lessons to keep them engaged.

The return to face-to-face teaching

One thing that we have learned over the lockdown is that there truly is no substitute for having students in the classroom with a teacher. It’s been a hugely positive return to school with students quickly settling back into the demands of face-to-face teaching, and we attribute this smooth transition to the clear routines we set in place when working remotely.

While one of the most popular responses from students when they were asked why they were glad to be returning to school was that they “didn’t have to stare at a screen all day” (the most popular response was that they were glad to see their friends!), we continue to embrace the fantastic range of online-resources and tools where these support high-quality teaching and learning.

Our digital learning approach has also made room for flexibility in our teaching models, allowing colleagues who are isolating or shielding to stream into the lessons so that students continue to be taught by subject specialists.

As we work towards collating our teacher assessed grades to award the summer results, we acknowledge the true value of our remote education model. Though we may not be seeing the same accelerated progress across the board that we have in previous years, our remote education offer has gone some way to ensure that students can progress, putting them in a strong position to secure the grades that they deserve and preparing them to embrace the next stage in their lives.


Get help with remote education

The Department has published a package of remote education support for schools on GOV.UK, including advice for supporting pupils with SEN, best practice teaching resources, and ways to get help with technology.

We’ve also set up a page on which has information for parents and carers to support their children with learning from home.

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