Northern Ireland

Schools preparing for remote learning to continue deep into new academic year

The experiences of pupils have varied since the lockdown began in March
The experiences of pupils have varied since the lockdown began in March

SCHOOLS have begun another month of closures and face a phased return in the autumn.

Staff and children are, therefore, preparing for remote learning to continue deep into the new academic year.

The experiences of pupils have varied since the lockdown began in March.

There have been concerns that thousands of young people either can not or will not log on to learn from home.

Worries have also been raised about access to broadband and devices.

To help schools, the Department of Education has published guidance on how to continue supporting remote learning.

It recognised that schools adapted quickly to the initial implications of minister Peter Weir's decision to limit attendance to key workers' children and vulnerable pupils.

Provision has been made by providing a range of hard copy and online materials. Staff have also been finding new ways of keeping in contact with pupils and their families and supporting parents as they assist children with their education.

The likelihood is that the 2020/21 academic year will begin with a `blended' approach of remote and in-class learning. Some schools have already shared provisional plans with parents. These include P1 pupils only attending for one day a week for the first month.

In its guidance, the department acknowledged that the nature of provision will continue to vary.

This includes considering the age and learning needs of young people, as well as the content of specific subjects.

Remote learning for younger pupils and those with additional needs will typically need more involvement from parents, whilst some older students may be able to learn more independently, the guidance said.

"The department is conscious that all pupils do not have the same levels of home support nor do all households have the same level of access to resources, particularly internet connection and devices such as tablets and laptops. Many schools have already lent digital equipment to pupils for use at home," it added.

The Education Authority is now engaging with schools to lend digital devices to pupils from socio-economically deprived backgrounds.

Given the extended period of closures and in preparing for a blended approach, the department has recommended that all schools aim to "engage with pupils on an ongoing basis through the wide range of e-learning platforms available rather than provide hard copy or emailed resources alone".

It notes that technology can potentially increase both the quality and quantity of remote learning.

The use of e-learning platforms can provide additional opportunities to motivate pupils, establish a daily routine and give feedback, enhancing their learning experience.

The OECD has stressed that the success of all pupils during this period, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, is linked to maintaining a close relationship with teachers.

It suggested the introduction of live lessons.

"Scheduling one lesson a day or even one or two lessons a week at a regular time can be valuable and help to develop something of a routine for pupils. It also keeps a level of personal interaction and belonging to the school community, as well as allowing pupils direct access to high quality teaching," it said.

"Schools will note that when Stranmillis University College asked parents for a single recommendation to improve home-schooling, the most common theme was a call for some degree of live interaction with teachers. This recommendation was echoed in the findings of Parentkind."

Mr Weir said the guidance was designed to bring together "what we are learning about emerging practice during this unprecedented time".

"I hope that schools and teachers will find the guidance provided by the department helpful to support pupils' learning. It is not intended to be prescriptive but to support schools as they develop and refine their practice around remote learning," he said.

"My department, working with the Education Authority and other key stakeholders, will add to the guidance. In the coming weeks, we will publish case studies to provide opportunities for schools to learn from each other."


THE new guidance includes ideas for providing feedback when remote learning.

:: Emails to provide pupils individualised support. For younger children, parents might email photos of completed work to a designated year group or class email address.

:: Comments on photos of pupils' work, for example on Twitter or SeeSaw. This can be "learning-focused or more general praise and celebration of achievement".

:: Showcasing pupils' work in a daily video message. Teachers could post written whole-class motivational feedback on previous work. They can also show examples of good home learning, giving `shout-outs' to praise work.

:: Online quizzes to give auto-feedback on incorrect answers. Free platforms, including Quizlet and Kahoot provide data on pupil responses. Such low stakes testing provides pupils with opportunities to actively process the information being presented.

:: Virtual certificates of achievement for pupils who have shown progress. These can provide incentivise others to do the same. Younger children can be awarded a virtual star of the week certificate.