How to develop a remote learning strategy for self-isolating pupils and staff

What do staff need to be able to teach remotely? Should all staff be trained, or should you create a team? We hear from a primary and secondary perspective on how they created their remote learning offer

Author details

Josephine Smith is head of a secondary school within a MAT in Lincolnshire. She was previously a vice principal and head of English and director of Key Stage 4 in schools in Leicestershire and Rutland.
Josephine holds NPQH, is a Research...

Anna is Interim Deputy Trust Leader & Executive Headteacher at Chaucer Junior School, part of EMBARK Federation.

1. Primary school experience

During lockdown staff within the EMBARK multi-academy trust have learnt fast. Staff were trained at breakneck speed on how to use the remote learning platform chosen by the school.

This left all schools in a strong position in September to develop their remote learning offer further, as they all had a successful platform to build on from their lockdown journey.

Staff were able to collaborate through video conferencing and share expertise across the trust to build their offer to suit the context of their school and meet the needs of the pupils in their setting. Each school is different, so they have had the autonomy to build their own. 

We used Model 1 below when designing our remote learning offer. 

Credit: NC State Friday Institute Educational Innovation (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)

Schools have had lots of scenarios to plan for in their offer, including:

  1. a whole year group bubble isolating
  2. individual children isolating due to family members
  3. staff members isolating.

We had to consider the following to ensure pupils receive a remote learning offer based on Model 1 above.

Identifying staff to deliver remote learning

We now have flow charts that identify roles and responsibilities for different scenarios.

Home learning packs were produced by members of staff who were vulnerable (those working in school but on a 1:1 basis with few children to reduce contact).

These were then distributed by support staff on their way home from work. Some schools have distributed home learning paper packs for every child, so they have it there ready for any kind of self-isolation period.

If staff are having to self-isolate due to family members with symptoms, but their pupils are still in school, they have supported their children through video conferencing.

One SEND pupil requested to stay at home and his TA delivered all his lessons through video conferencing for a couple of days while waiting for test results.

Upskilling the team

We had a training event via video conferencing so that all staff knew how to access contact details for their pupils. 

This allowed the team leader to divide responsibilities and use support staff as well as teachers to deliver lessons, provide guidance and offer support to our vulnerable families at home.

Staff were also briefed on how to record any safeguarding concerns and given a refresher session on the online learning platform for their school.

The children need access to high quality learning and, more importantly, clear feedback from their teachers

Balancing remote learning duties with other in-school responsibilities

Work set for remote learning mirrors that happening in class and is simply marked on the platform rather than in the book. This prevents extra planning and marking.

The family support team who would normally have offered support to families in school now do this virtually through online video conferencing and signposting support.

We also offer hampers or packed lunches for children that are entitled to free school meals if their bubble is closed due to a confirmed case.

Parents have appreciated the improvements made to the offers in different schools. Preparation and the clear flow chart process has allowed remote learning to start within 24 hours of bubble closures.

The children need access to high quality learning and, more importantly, clear feedback from their teachers if they are to remain connected with school and continue learning in these unprecedented times.

Staff and families across the trust are working together well to face the challenges which change daily. We are immensely proud and grateful to all our EMBARK family.

2. Secondary school experience

At the start of lockdown most schools used their VLE or IT network to deliver packages of learning.

As weeks passed though, we realised that even our most diligent and independent learners would quickly lose motivation with such faceless solutions.

Most success seemed to lie in an early adoption of online live lesson delivery with bold teachers taking to Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom. This enabled staff to respond to students’ queries, eliminate learning misconceptions quickly and above all to preserve teacher-student relationships. 

Now with schools reopen many of us are relying on online delivery to meet the needs of self-isolating students or deliver to our classes while we are self-isolating ourselves.

Training staff

We planned initially for there to be a remote learning team composed of representative members of different subject departments who might deliver to students at home. We envisaged self-isolating staff might deliver to self-isolating students.

This worked well early on during a whole school lockdown but we soon learnt that Covid -19 would make delivery in this way impossible and that all secondary staff needed to be confident in delivering to their classes online, often with little notice, if curriculum continuity were to be achieved and learning delivered by specialists.

We took the following steps to get over 50 teachers teaching online.

1. Sell the benefits of online delivery

These were:

  • improved student engagement
  • consistency of approach across subjects
  • minimising confusion for students and parents
  • time efficiency for staff (after initial training and practice)
  • a ‘Covid safe’ way to set, receive and assess work and provide feedback.

SLT were responsible for early promotion but used keen subject leaders looking for time saving and consistent approaches for their team to sell it to other department heads. If you are starting now use other schools to describe the benefits too.

2. Create the safeguarding policy and student and staff expectations policies

This is key to protecting staff and students and for setting out clear school expectations. SLT and the safeguarding team at school consulted and then produced these.

3. Identify the staff early adopters: celebrate and recognise your trail blazers

We did this through our online subject leaders and staff meetings. Early adopters enthused, especially about the potential for efficient work setting and student work submission, something all staff were grappling with during lockdown.

More confident staff had less confident colleagues join their online lessons to help manage the chat functions or simply to support.

4. Plan online and socially distanced face to face training events

We awarded a TLR3 to a member of staff who was a confident early adopter. His role for the year is to support, encourage and train other teachers.

He offers department specific training: the maths department learnt to use graphic tablets for example while other departments wanted to learn how to save recorded lessons to Microsoft Stream or use rubrics to make the assessment of online submitted assignments more efficient.

We also used UPS3 staff and our lead T&L coaches (already established in school) to support other staff at training sessions of limited group sizes.

We trained more than 50 teachers to teach online.

5. Encourage other staff to try teaching online

Then move to an expectation that your digital platform will be the only way work will be set for students. We use Microsoft Teams and the main thing we would change is to move to expectation rather than encouragement more quickly.

Do signal this change though. Staff need to know you are wedded to this way of working and therefore need to engage with the support in place.

6. Roll out a compulsory CPD programme

Make it:

  • targeted
  • focused
  • differentiated by ability for all staff.

Almost all our ‘spare’ directed time is allocated to this. In the absence of whole school events we have found more time for staff to dedicate to remote delivery training.

We benefited from some training offered at no charge by a parent who is a digital trainer. She kindly recorded a training session featuring top tips and ‘dos and don’ts’ for staff focusing on the softer skills of online lesson facilitation. This came about because of some constructive feedback she gave after witnessing her daughters early online learning!

We are six months into our remote learning strategy. Staff say it’s been hard work and taken many of them well out of their comfort zone, but they realise the benefits for both students and staff.

Now we know that blended learning is here to stay for quite some time we are glad we adopted online teaching early on.

Parents have been hugely supportive and grateful, and staff are certainly proud to feel part of the solution to the challenges faced by so many young people during this pandemic.

Last Updated: 
03 Nov 2020