2021 Spring Term 1

The know zone

  • Embracing change
    Bob Jackson, Assistant Principal at Goole Academy, on how online lessons have consigned 'snow days' to the past. More
  • Covid keepers
    ASCL Specialist, Hayley Dunn, shares some of the positives that have emerged from the pandemic. More
  • Get your finances in order
    The way you use money in the short-term impacts your future financial freedom. Here, with tips for getting your long-term finances in order, is Joshua May from income protection insurance specialists PG Mutual. More
  • Change must be sustainable
    If FE is to play its full part in the country's recovery from the pandemic, it must be funded realistically, argues ASCL Senior Advisor Anne Murdoch. More
  • Visions of 2020
    There's no doubt that 2020 was a year like no other and one that most of us would like to forget, but among the doom and gloom of the pandemic there have been many stories of positivity, kindness, inspiration and laughter. Here, ASCL members share their views... More
  • SEN-sational!
    Director of Inclusion Dr Nic Crossley says being a member of ASCL Council enables her to be an active voice for the special educational needs (SEN) sector and for women leaders. Here she shares her passion for Council, leadership and... shoes. More
  • Splendid isolation
    What are the rules regarding pandemic social etiquette when it comes to teaching and meetings? Debrett's has yet to pronounce on this delicate issue, so how are we supposed to know how to behave in front of a screen or at a social distance, asks Carl Smith. More
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Bob Jackson, Assistant Principal at Goole Academy, on how online lessons have consigned ‘snow days’ to the past.

Embracing change

The pandemic has brought many uncertainties, but one cast-iron guarantee for our school in East Riding is that blended learning is here to stay.

Like schools across the country, ours has been grappling with a whole new set of challenges since Covid-19 hit, chief among which has been establishing an effective online learning system for children.

It has been especially critical for us, given our rural location, making school a bus ride away for most. With periods of isolation continuing for some, remote access remains a lifeline, but even in normal times, it is essential when children are unable to get to school.

We also feared, looking at the impact of school closures on children suffering deprivation, that our pupils would suffer disproportionately if we did not get this right, with a third qualifying for free school meals (FSM) and 960 children qualifying for the Pupil Premium.

Overcoming challenges

When the March lockdown began, our first challenge was to solve the problem of those without IT. Once we had fixed that – a mixture of ensuring content was available from mobile phones and loaning laptops or dongles – it was about making it really simple for students to set themselves up at home and monitoring their work closely.

It was not just about mastering the technology but ensuring we kept up human interaction.

We had a single point of contact at the school for students and their parents, where they could direct questions big or small, from needing a password reset to more clarity on an assignment. We made sure we answered questions quickly as we knew if we lost engagement in the early days it would be very hard to get back on track.

We also made weekly calls to pupils to check on progress. This was made easy by platforms like GCSEPod, which has a tracking system showing the number of assignments being downloaded per pupil so we can see who is working productively and who might need more help. Fun elements like Check and Challenge allow teachers to give quick feedback on work; this has proved a really effective way of keeping up a conversation between pupils and staff where face-to-face interactions are limited.

We found as well as finding material that resonated with pupils and getting their buy-in, it is important for parents to know what their children are learning and how they can help. Again, GCSEPod is good for this, as there is content for parents, too.

Another lesson we learnt was that as well as focusing on learning and ensuring students are not being left behind academically, it is really important to focus on wellbeing, bearing in mind the enormous toll the pandemic has taken on pupils’ mental health. We signposted material on healthy living that students could access from home, and the entire school has really enjoyed implementing these daily tips and they have become part of school life.

Fundamental changes

We have come a very long way since the early days of the crisis. Staff and pupils have learnt new skills, something they have embraced. We have fundamentally changed the way we work; I passionately believe for the better.

Most lessons now are live-streamed; we can deliver lessons through Microsoft Teams if needed and students and staff are comfortable with online learning as part and parcel of normal school life. Of course, it can never replace face-to-face teaching and nor should it, but I believe blended learning is here to stay as an essential complement to classroom teaching. It gives us the confidence to operate during school closures, reach out to pupils with long-term absence and staff can comfortably teach remotely where circumstances dictate.

For schools like ours, online learning has been a positive legacy from the pandemic. We are more agile, more skilled and, crucially, we are no longer as vulnerable to the unpredictability of life. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected and embrace change.

More about GCSEpod

GCSEPod provides content for GCSEs and IGCSEs and is accessible to over a million secondary school students and 67,000 teachers across the country. All GCSEPod content is rigorously quality assured and mapped to all major GCSE exam boards. 

ASCL members receive a 5% discount, call 0191 338 7830 to find out more or visit www.gcsepod.com

Bob Jackson
Assistant Principal at Goole Academy in East Yorkshire