Opinion Piece | October 2020

Be brave: School's must embrace digital change to combat Coronavirus

LONDON, 21st October - With a second lockdown now well underway, hopes of a quick return to normality and the traditional approach to the Christmas holidays have been dashed – albeit with one significant difference. Though the hospitality sector has closed its doors for the time being, schools, colleges and universities remain open and where possible continue delivering lessons in person.

However, while the Government is confident in the sector’s ability to deliver lessons to all pupils, there are some challenging realities that must be addressed. Many pupils across the UK are having to self-isolate due to illness – with the latest Government figures suggesting that two-thirds of Secondary Schools and almost a quarter of Primaries have one or more pupils self-isolating – and schools have been mandated to ensure that the same quality of education is delivered to them as those in the classroom. In addition to this, the Government has called upon private tutoring organisations to help bridge any learning gaps caused by the pandemic – and that support, in many cases, will need to be facilitated online.

Though many institutions have already laid the groundwork over the summer to ensure they can easily create and manage remote learning environments, many of these solutions were temporary or designed without the flexibility of having some pupils in the classroom and some at home. Now that schools are being tasked with teaching remotely once more it’s crucial that these solutions become an integral part of the education of our children.

Identify an IT Partner and develop an effective IT strategy

From working with external groups such as private tutoring organisations and Ofsted inspectors to temporary teachers, it’s especially important that there’s an effective IT strategy in place that everyone, not just students, can effectively access within a school. It is therefore crucial that schools sit down with their IT representative(s) to work out their needs and current limitations.

To help expedite this process many schools are choosing to look to partner with a technology provider that can guide them. A partner can create and manage the technology solutions within a school, letting the school focus on what they do best – the continuity of children’s education.

Be confident in your strategy

Though many schools now have some form of remote learning solution in place, many are yet to view it as a cornerstone of their education strategy. And why? Simply because few considered that an option before the pandemic, and then had little choice but to implement it at pace in difficult conditions.

However, with the pandemic ongoing, in order to reassure parents and governors that these solutions are fit for purpose, schools need to be confident in them themselves. By being transparent about the steps being taken and technologies used to enable remote learning, key stakeholders such as parents and governors are more likely to be invested and involved in the school’s strategy.

Similarly, opening up a remote learning solution to suggestions from the users – teachers and pupils – will also help include them in any change. For instance, perhaps utilising Microsoft Teams for parents evening, or moving to Google Docs because some families find them easier to use, are ways that schools could help everyone embrace these new solutions.

Tech that just works

Critically, having a remote platform is of no value unless your pupils have the devices to access it. This has been a particular challenge, despite the DfE providing over 500,000 laptops for the more disadvantaged children in schools. But even then, there are issues. One of the biggest barriers that teachers will encounter on this journey to remote learning is technology not working, or being slow, when it should just work. Recent research from BESA suggests a third of computers in schools are ineffective due to age, specification or conditions. And it’s worth noting that the more modern a school’s devices are, the smoother and faster they work, and the easier they will be to use. If teachers can’t rely on the devices underpinning a remote learning strategy, then that strategy may as well not be there.

Throughout this year, schools across the UK have embraced change under the most difficult of circumstances. Schools are now much more accustomed to using technology in the classroom, and the commitment to remote learning, and what is now being called “blended learning” as this becomes part of the curriculum, will allow pupils to prepare in advance, to collaborate online with fellow students, and to make the most of classroom time.

Whether facing a future pandemic, or simply combatting a local problem such as bad weather, having an established remote learning platform in your school will ensure that teachers can keep teaching and pupils will continue learning.

About RM Education

RM Education helps schools save time, save money and improve the impact of technology on teaching and learning. It is a market -leading supplier of software and services working in partnership with thousands of schools to improve outcomes for all learners. rm.com/education

About RM plc

RM Education is part of the listed company RM plc – the £221m turnover British business, with c. 1,936 employees globally, established in 1973, specialising in providing information technology products and services to educational organisations and establishments. Its key market is UK education including schools, colleges, universities, government education departments and educational agencies. rm.com

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