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Supporting schools through the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has been a major challenge for schools across the country, and United Learning is no exception. Thanks to the collective efforts of our school staff and central office teams, who have worked tirelessly to ensure no child misses out on their education, we have been able to offer comprehensive support during this difficult period:

Getting Connected

Before the national lockdown was announced in March 2020, our experienced technology team sprang into action with anticipatory measures to ensure all our schools were equipped to deliver remote learning. Our educational technologists produced comprehensive guides to Microsoft Teams, Sway and the innovative use of PowerPoint for creating recorded lessons, and were on-hand with advice; from supporting the delivery of lessons to ensuring the smooth running of the school. We also implemented a phone system which allowed staff in schools to make more than 100,000 pastoral calls home whilst still complying with safeguarding best practice. As the technology has developed, the team has continued to guide everyone through the new updates so that our whole organisation can operate as effectively online as in person.

Remote learning

 

The main priority for our schools was providing continuity of learning, wherever possible, for all pupils, whether they were learning from home or school. The technology team worked with our expert subject advisers to make learning accessible from home and in the classroom at the same time. After successfully creating a framework for our primary and secondary schools to deliver lessons remotely, we were invited by the Department for Education to share our expertise and lessons learned to schools nationwide in a series of webinars.

Devices

The sudden transition to online learning threatened to leave behind thousands of pupils without access to a suitable device or internet connection. We acquired more than 19,000 Chromebooks and 2000 4G WiFi dongles to enable children to access online learning materials in a safe and secure environment. Chromebooks were delivered with straightforward tutorials to make sure our pupils got the most from their devices, and schools were supported to facilitate contact-free handovers to minimise exposure.

EdTech Demonstrator Programme

United Learning is also delighted to have been appointed to support with the EdTech Demonstrator Schools and Colleges Programme. Funded by the Department for Education, the programme provides peer-led advice and training to help schools and colleges in England use technology to support remote teaching and improve their digital capability. As a Demonstrator school we offer packages of support, ranging from guidance, online tutorials, webinars and recorded content. We are currently supporting over 50 schools – you can find out more and sign up for a webinar here.

Shared curriculum

As a Group, we built an entire pupil-facing curriculum site and populated it with numerous new materials, including thousands of pre-recorded video lessons led by subject experts, and presentations for teachers to use in live lessons. The site is accessible to all United Learning pupils, and also has a teacher-facing site so that our colleagues can manage their lesson planning effectively. There are tools for teachers to create quizzes for their classes, to set work to specific pupils, and they can also access analytics to track student engagement. All materials have been structured using the Rosenshine model (I Do – You Do – We Do), which we adopted for our approach to teaching and learning back in 2018.

Oak National Academy

Beyond our Group too, we have contributed to the national educational effort by providing many hours of lessons for Oak National Academy, a free online bank of video lessons for pupils in Reception up to Year 11, funded by the government. Sophie Dale, Head of Science at Kettering Buccleuch Academy and Oak National Academy contributor, said of her involvement: “It’s amazing to see how many pupils are engaging with something we have helped set up. The feedback has been incredible and we will always be looking at how we can improve to better support pupils and teachers who are already doing a fantastic job.”

Seneca

We teamed up with this market-leading and adaptive online learning platform to provide secondary pupils with 24/7 access to curriculum content and past papers. Our Project Leads have carefully mapped our curriculum to the Seneca platform so that pupils accessing the United Learning curriculum site can seamlessly access relevant Seneca materials alongside their lessons.

Checking pupil understanding

School closures have inevitably created gaps in pupils’ knowledge, so our curriculum writers are identifying the core, non-negotiable pieces of knowledge that should have been taught during school closures, and prioritising reviewing (and re-teaching if necessary) these at the most appropriate times in the year. In each new unit, the writers are making clear where pupils will need knowledge that should have been covered during school closures, and are providing ‘pre-learning quizzes’. They are also writing shortened lesson sequences, so that teachers have the time to reteach this crucial content if required, while still having time to cover the most important new learning in the unit. You can see more detail on our approach – and how you might take a similar one if you’re not using the United Learning curriculum – here.

CPD

We’ve taken the chance to strengthen links between colleagues leading on key areas, such as curriculum, teaching and learning and Year 11. Regular remote meetings for these groups have sparked new connections and more collaboration than ever. We’ve also set up virtual ‘town hall’-style meetings for all staff in our organisation to keep colleagues up-to-date and connected during these uncertain times.

Staying active

Back in January, we began our biennial Group-wide sports challenge - Challenge 2020 - full of optimism. Students, teachers and support staff made pledges to complete physical challenges in a time-frame of 20 weeks, centred around the number 2020. Pledges included everything from cycling 2,020 miles to completing 20 minutes of yoga every day. When the first national lockdown began, schools got creative to continue with their challenges, with PE teachers filming at-home workout videos and school houses competing on Strava to achieve the most miles. This focus on keeping active and promoting health and wellbeing has remained at the fore for our schools throughout.  

Policies and guidance

To help simplify the process for school leaders, our central team took on the task of reviewing the fast-changing guidance from the government and communicating it to schools. Template risk assessments were and continue to be produced as the pandemic response evolves with updates regularly communicated to school leaders. As part of the statutorily required monitoring process, school risk assessments have been formally reviewed by the centre on a number of occasions, a process that has supported our schools and offices to reopen safely. At the request of the Department for Education, we also produced guidance and responses to different scenarios to support schools across the country to reopen in September.  A newly released policy portal now ensures that people with key responsibilities in schools are automatically informed when a relevant policy is updated.

Continuous improvement

Throughout the pandemic, we have been mindful of the importance of listening to all our stakeholders – pupils, parents and staff. At three points across the summer term of 2020, we delivered a short ‘pulse’ survey to our pupils, parents and teaching staff to gain feedback on our response to Covid-19 and find areas for improvement. The insights from these surveys were invaluable and enabled schools to identify areas for improvement and to benchmark themselves against similar schools. It was great to see 96% of staff were proud of their school’s response to remote learning.

What's next?

We’re continuing to adapt as the situation changes, developing our offering so that our pupils can grow and achieve whether they’re at home or in the classroom. Importantly, we’re continuing to offer a broad enrichment programme so that our students can still enjoy an holistic, well-rounded education. 

2020 was full of challenges, and as we enter a new year, there has been no sign of a let-up. The past year has emphasised the huge importance of continuing on our mission to bring out the best in everyone – pupils, parents and staff – come what may.

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