First-hand experiences, reflections and advice on EdTech in Alternative Provision settings, with Bukky Yusuf.

This article is an overview of a presentation that I delivered at the Global Edtech, #FutureOfEdtech online event in February 2021. The third lockdown period within England provided a good opportunity to reflect upon the most relevant things that I have learnt about distance learning within an Alternative Provision setting. Below are some of my first-hand experiences of remote teaching during a pandemic, reflections and suggestions as we move forward with edtech.

Understanding Alternative Provision

Teaching within a special school that can also be described as Alternative Provision, has provided me with some unique insights when it comes to edtech and the impact it can have upon student learning.

There are actually two definitions for Alternative Provision. In 2013, the DfE described Alternative Provision as ‘any educational set-up that enabled students who are excluded for a variety of reasons (i.e. illness, behavioural issues) for them to continue with their education as part of their offsite provision’. This was recently updated in 2021 to say that ‘Alternative Provision is the educational set-up for students who are not able to be in mainstream or special school settings’. According to recent data shared, a high number of students within Alternative Provision are boys who have special educational needs/complex learning needs.

Our blended learning challenges

In March 2020, my school, like the rest of the world, went on to online education and we managed quite successfully. However, the additional challenge we faced during the third lockdown in England was blending learning – putting our remote learning plan into place alongside our face-to-face teaching. To support young people and ensure that they are successful in their educational outcomes, we continually have open and robust communication to find out how they are before we consider the technology they have. This also helps to support emotional health and mental wellbeing. This is to avoid making any assumptions. Through the government scheme, we were able to make sure that every student had a laptop to access their online learning, while spending time to actually teach them how to use the laptop for their lessons. Again, no assumptions were made about the technical proficiency of students.

Our remote learning benefits

One of the bonuses of remote learning was the presence of parents/carers/guardians to help facilitate, as it allowed them to see how much teachers were putting in place to aid the virtual learning and to keep a rapport with pupils within a virtual set-up. Another bonus was that many of our students loved the remote learning set-up because it helped to reduce their anxieties and supported them to become independent learners in charge of their learning through asynchronous lessons.

This then led to accelerated rates of progress and higher engagement levels.

Connection and continuity

We also recognised that some students were not able to engage in this way so, like many educators around the world, we trialled Loom as part of our asynchronous set-up as the students can see us. We understood the importance of connection and continuity, of the relationship, and ensured that we were there to support them to do the best they could. We also had to make sure marking and feedback strategies that worked well within the classroom continued to do so online. In this, we kept feedback very simple, focusing on what worked well, aspects they needed to improve and specific actions to implement. Not all the feedback was in writing, some was verbal responses captured via audio. All feedback outlined specific guidelines that helped them to move on or demonstrate progress. Where students were not engaging with lessons, time was also made to connect with every student to make sure that they were okay.

Preserving staff wellbeing

Right from the very beginning, my headteacher made it clear that in order to be in a good position to take care of our students, we have to take care of ourselves. Therefore, our mental health and wellbeing was a priority, particularly while we worked from home with additional responsibilities. Various informal systems (WhatsApp, phone calls) and formal systems (Zoom, emails) were created for daily briefings, staff updates and discussions that ensured we were continuing as a school community. This focus was particularly important as lockdown experiences during the winter months were more challenging. Fewer daylight hours meant more time spent indoors and during the Spring/ Summer months, the novelty had completely worn off. This meant that my headteacher facilitated relaxation/mindfulness techniques that we could all engage with at various levels, i.e. showing ourselves online, participating without video or merely listening.

The key importance of these techniques was to help students and staff to emotionally regulate as we dealt with the new and unpredictable challenges that emerged. This included operating within smaller bubbles as the school remained open for face-to-face teaching, as well as providing trauma-informed practices and speech and language therapies.

Key takeaways

This experience has taught me that during any distance learning/blended learning set-ups, the key priorities are:

  1. Maintaining connections/relationships with students and their families
  2. High quality teaching and learning
  3. Curriculum continuity.

Looking to the future, we must ensure that we:

  1. Continue to focus on accessibility (especially as everyone benefits).
  2. Ensure students can increase their typing speeds/touch type if they continue to work digitally.
  3. Allow students to develop transferable digital skills that go beyond the school walls.
  4. Make the most of virtual work experiences.

Author

  • Bukky Yusuf

    Bukky is a senior leader, science teacher and educational consultant. She has undertaken a number of leadership roles within mainstream and special schools. As part of her commitment to increase diverse leadership within education, she participates with a number of initiatives and organisations. These include her roles as an ambassador for Leadership Matters and as a co-leader for WomenEd_Tech.

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