Remote learning for pupils

Sometimes pupils are unable to attend school and need to access learning remotely. What can teachers do to prepare and share materials effectively, both online and offline?

Author details

Liz Murray has worked in education for 20 years, as an accredited advanced skills teacher, pastoral and curriculum leader, SENCO and assistant headteacher. She has worked across the mainstream and independent sectors. She is also the founder of...

There are times in a young person’s school career where they may need to learn at home for a short period due to illness or other family circumstances. An estimated 60,000 children were fully or partially home schooled in the UK during the academic year 2018–2019, according to government figures. It’s a complex picture and there are a variety of reasons the decision might be made to home school, such as the following.

  • A lack of school choice or dissatisfaction with the school environment.
  • Special educational needs that are either undiagnosed or unmet at school; these could include complex medical needs or a combination of diagnosed needs often resulting in social, emotional or mental health issues if not carefully supported.
  • Severe anxiety about attending school which result in school refusal.
  • Lifestyle, either due to parental jobs, or a child’s other activities; child athletes or actors are often home schooled.
  • A school closure due to extraordinary circumstances.

Schools and teachers are regularly asked to provide home learning resources for situations when a young person cannot attend school, but the quality of the work that is sent home can be an afterthought at the end of a busy day of being in the classroom.

However, following the announcement that schools are closing due to COVID-19, all schools are now working hard to provide effective resources that young people and their parents can access remotely.

Using technology

Technology provides many opportunities for continuity of high-quality learning, but it is not without pitfalls.
Many secondary schools already have a virtual learning environment that is partially populated with tasks and guidance for homework and revision. Resources can be uploaded to this and young people can access them at home.

Useful software and virtual platforms

Office 365 is often set up in schools but not fully utilised. It is a very good option and simple to use.  Set up properly it can provide pupils access to:

  • school email
  • Microsoft office suite which can then be downloaded for free on to home computers
  • Microsoft Teams (more on this below).

Streaming lessons

Some schools are using Microsoft Teams to create virtual classrooms and share resources with students. This can include teachers streaming live instruction and facilitating discussion.

Zoom is excellent software for live streaming lessons and sharing resources and is free for the basic service for 40 minute sessions. It has largely been the domain of online tutors up to now but schools who are using it report good outcomes. Zoom ‘breakout rooms’ can enable interactive group learning, although do consider safeguarding protocols (see further below).

Flipgrid gets rave reviews from educators. It’s a free video discussion platform that allows users to post video responses to a question or idea. It’s particularly good for enabling interactive responses at different times and then for the teacher to pre-record a response and post it for students to see when they log in. This has obvious advantages for monitoring content and controlling interactions while still maintaining interactive learning.

A combined approach

Combining a virtual learning environment with an interactive platform and email can provide schools with the opportunity to provide an ongoing and relevant educational experience for young people at home.

For example, by combining what they already had available, one secondary school was able to launch their remote learning programme the day after the school closure announcement and provide the following for students at home.

  1. Show My Homework set up to share lessons (assignments and instruction) as per the usual student timetable.
  2. Video chat streaming lessons or pre-recorded video tutorials on Microsoft Teams.
  3. A lesson assignment to be handed in online via Microsoft Teams.
  4. Email from teachers via Office 365.
  5. Sharing online textbooks.

Consider interaction between learners

Interaction between peers is an important part of school life. Once confident with the technology, setting group projects where pupils can work together virtually using one of the platforms above is worth considering.

Overcoming barriers

Often the barrier to using technology is getting online in the first place. Supporting young people and their parents or carers is a crucial step. It can be useful to send home simple step-by-step information, such as this introductory clip on Microsoft Teams, or an instruction sheet like the one below.

Non computer-based options

Not every family has access to technology and not every child or young person will be able to use it effectively, either because they are too young, are unable to navigate the technology or have learning needs. These pupils need to be supported in a different way. Here are some suggestions.

  • Weekly home learning packs to be picked up from school which contain clearly categorised subject worksheets, a pencil, an exercise book and some project ideas.
  • Even if a family doesn’t have a computer, most people do have a smart phone. The school website could be updated for each class and with a daily message and guidance for parents for each year group. This could include uploading some video clips of teachers reading aloud or explaining a task in person.
  • Each family receives a weekly phone or video call from their teacher to answer questions and check on progress (this would need to happen from school to not breach safeguarding regulations).

Creating resources for home learning

As any teacher who has ever moved from group learning to one-to-one tutoring will know, the way in which activities need to be framed, and the amount and style of learning is different. Not having the learner in front of you creates a whole new set of challenges. When designing resources to be tackled independently a different approach is needed.

  • Provide a clear instruction sheet along with the task or worksheet, so that it is accessible for parents.
  • Provide scaffolding or graduated tasks so that learners of different abilities can access the task.
  • Provide an idea of how much time pupils should spend on a particular task or activity.
  • Provide links to videos or TV programmes which contextualise or support the learning, much as you would in a whole class lesson.
  • Consider podcasts or voice tutorials that can be emailed or posted on the school website to accompany tasks.
  • Assign work that doesn’t mean that children will be on the computer for hours at a time; include some ideas for physical activity.
  • Get pupils to record or take pictures of themselves doing activities or posting their work so that there is an outcome and provide feedback and celebrate learning outcomes with them. Consider providing some verbal recorded feedback so that this feels more personal.

Safety and protocols

Most schools will already have an online learning policy. Make sure you have considered aspects such as the following.

  • Any live contact between teacher and students (phone calls or video) should happen when teachers are on school site.
  • Consider the most appropriate medium of instruction depending on the students age, ability, and their ability to participate
  • Group size: larger groups of children may be more challenging to manage during an interactive online class, so it may not be appropriate.
  • Review safeguarding protocols carefully for live interaction. Without expertise and experience this may not be the most appropriate approach for students.
  • Be aware of requirements for accounts, personal data and privacy questions. Do consider the terms of service together with privacy policies and check if there are minimum age requirements.
  • Does the system include online chat features, and is this moderated?

If particular issues or questions arise, try contacting the Professionals Online Safety Helpline.

For further advice and resources, see the DfE guidance on safeguarding and remote education during coronavirus (COVID-19).

Last Updated: 
20 Apr 2020