29 Oct

Tech will save us… Right?

person using black and silver laptop computer
How the small school can be supported by Ed Tech

Earlier this month government announced that the expectations for remote education are to be statutory. These expectations cover a multitude of scenarios and can be found in their guidance for full opening.

The National Association of Small Schools are offering advice in their newsletter for schools who are exploring their home-school provision, and I wrote this to support that.

Extract from government guidance.
So, where do you start?
  • Do an audit of what subscription services you pay for.
    • this might prove surprising – especially if teachers have had a bit of freedom in the past to sign up for specific services. Have a good look at what you are getting for your money.
  • Make use of the curriculum-linked services available.
    • Not to everyone’s taste I know, but check your long term curriculum plan – are some things covered within Oak Academy? Or BBC services? Can teachers make loose links now within planning which, if needed, can be tightened and shared with parents?
  • Provide training for parents in your expectations, and what services they can use from home.
    • For example, if you use Google Classroom do some online workshops with parents. They don’t need to take long, or be particularly technical, but they will provide parents with a bit of familiarity.
  • Don’ t overload yourself! There is no point in purchasing every subscription just in case, develop the technical know how with what you have.

Finding the Right Service

It can be tricky to find services and support – every school has a different context. Start by thinking what you need the tech to do – for example something that can be used both at school and home – a way for parents and teachers to communicate, something to share files or something to allow real-time online lessons. Services such as Google G Suite, Microsoft 360, cover everything, including video chat and online apps. Some, such as Showbie and Tapestry allow for interaction between home and school and sharing files.

Asking schools in similar situations to yourself can be helpful as well – especially if you have local expertise and people who are willing to help train staff.

It should be said that I am a big fan of Google G Suite for Education – for a small school it really does provide everything you need.

Communication is Key

And luckily tech can help here – whether it is messaging families, or staying in touch during a lockdown. Social media can be a great way to get in touch with parents – just try not to use your own personal account. Creating groups for each class can mean the teacher can share updates in one go – and choosing a service carefully will also mean that you can share it with parents in advance. Linking to key updates on Facebook, creating a dedicated space on the school website and text messages reminding parents of where resources can be found are some ways that communication can help.

Put your provision on paper…

You need to be clear about what you can offer – no point in saying there will be daily maths and literacy lessons if your teachers have no access to the internet at home. Aim for weekly contact, and then some sessions, such as reading, which give a bit of connection with the teacher,

Ensure that parents and governors are all aware and make staff expectations reasonable. Small schools, with mixed age classes, particular need to ensure they are realistic – teaching online can be tricky and in some cases providing workbooks for classes may make life much easier.

Increase engagement

Finally, consider that families may find it tricky to keep engagement going – even if they do have the devices and the internet connection needed.

  • Have a set contact time each day – whether for answering / replying to emails of for video chats. A routine will be beneficial for staff and pupils and will help parents to manage expectations.
  • Share information in different formats – e.g. weekly overviews can be sent via Google Classroom and put on the website in PDF format.
  • Continue with school routines – e.g. whole school assemblies that follow the same format. Virtual meetings for groups like the School Council.
  • Create teacher videos, or record the online lessons – this will mean they can be watched at any time.
  • Train your pupils – for example our older children are using Google Classroom habitually now so that if they need to use it at home it’s familiar. Some classes watch a bit of Oak Academy, or use apps available at home, so that they will understand their use if they are at home.

Do you have any top tips or questions? Please let us know in the comments!



24 Oct

We are missing an opportunity to truly transform digital education…

And, it should be said, it is not the schools at fault here.

As a primary school practitioner I am incredibly proud of how schools transformed their provision when the March lockdown got. Schools across the country adapted creatively, often on a shoestring budget, to develop some kind of online space and distanced learning for their pupils.

We saw schools develop online assemblies, inviting in the community just as the would in person. Schools that were open and made use of streaming lessons, or engaging with content already out there. Partnerships with providers (often local) to share resources such as video, or virtual walks. Secondary schools developed online timetables, desperately trying to ensure that teachers were not spread too thinly.

Add to that the communication tools school were using – linking schools with parents became so important and schools adapted quickly: Google Classroom, Showbie, Tapestry amongst many apps and platforms adopted by schools and shared with parents.

And all of this was achieved whilst still providing Free a School Meals and upporting the children of key workers on site.

Of course schools are now much better prepared: they have held training sessions with parents explaining how such platforms work; provided staff training; led lessons with pupils helping them to use the technology appropriately; invested in support from professionals. But we are fighting a losing battle simply because the divide was already too big and there’s no central support to this.

Let us begin with the good news, the government did pledge support for schools in setting up an online platform if they didn’t already have one. This was helpful, and it was backed up by a small amount of money. Probably not enough for a larger school with complex needs and staff training, but it was a start.

Government also started offering devices and 4G routers for ‘disadvantaged’ families – this scheme has been dogged in criticism mainly because it wasn’t particularly timely (I received devices two weeks before the end of term) – and there wasn’t enough.


So, why is it a problem?

We already know there is a huge digital divide – we know that there are families who don’t use the internet. We know pupils who only have access to a phone (and this is often for a few distracting games) and we know families who share one device. The Office of National Statistics also backs up the divide as increasingly affecting those with lower income.

In simple terms of actually having an internet connection connectivity (and availability) varies massively across the country – and a city-centric approach to online education is not helpful. You can check parliamentary data on this issue here. But compare these two images here for different experiences of connectivity.



And it is not as simple as ‘devices and access’ – families may lack confidence with the technology or there may be space issues, especially if a family member is working from home. A sibling may also need access. Cambridge University is really leading the way in this research:

For adults facing digital exclusion, the challenges of social distancing are many. Our research with New Horizons, a one-to-one coaching programme for people experiencing financial issues in the East of England, reveals that digital exclusion creates additional problems for people already experiencing poverty: putting together a CV, applying for jobs, managing and keeping track of money, and applying for Universal Credit are just some of the essential activities made that much harder for the digitally excluded. 

https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/digitaldivide
But what can be done?


In the first instance we need an admission that all is not as rosy and equal as the government is suggesting. Postcode connectivity, deprivation and access to services all make digital education a tricky concept for school communities.

Secondly the government need to make good on promises – and not just pandemic linked ones either. (Just give the schools the damn laptops you have already purchased!) The connectivity issue has been debated in parliament for years, and for rural areas often comes up in general elections. Less talking, more doing, please!


Finally, remove the pressure from schools to have an ‘online offering’ for all. This map just piles more anxiety on families and children who are unable to take part. Acknowledge that schools may need to deliver paper work packs, or loan equipment out – and fund us properly to do it.

The pandemic has highlighted more than ever the inequalities and digital exclusion in our society – let’s use this as a force for good!

03 Oct

Covid Secure Pupil Voice

white book in white table near yellow wall

Prompted by a comment from one of my pupils recently ‘ we never see them anymore really though…’

Primary schools pride themselves on developing pupil leadership; encouraging children to get out of their comfort zone and allowing them to have a say in areas of school life. If your school is anything like mine currently then our pupil ‘bubbbles’ are actively hindering this process as the children are not allowed to mix like they would do – they can’t walk freely around school to look for ‘tidy rooms’ – the older children can no longer lead clubs for the younger children and they can’t meet with different members of staff.

Thinking about this there are several ways in which children can still collaborate around school.

Begin by considering the worth in giving the children ownership over some of the changes in school. Not only by explaining the reasoning behind strucutral changes, or timetable changes, but also in asking them if they can think of anything that may improve it. As an example our older children developed their own way of running the school tuck shop in a covid secure manner.

There will be other areas of school life however that the children will be missing – and it is these that I have been thinking about over the last few weeks – how can we keep collaboration and community at the centre of our schools?

For the School Council
  • a display area where pupils can leave notes / ideas and suggestions for each other form other classes or bubbles. The school council will have to get in the habit of checking, and responding – and removing notes which have been resolved.
  • An online book (or even just an online collaborative document) – which will allow the school council to keep the minutes of their meetings, and hare them with the rest of the school. I love Book Creator – but a google doc would work just as well.
  • Their own webspace to update with what the impact they are having.
  • Use of google forms (or similar) to guage the feeling from the children regualrly – or even just a quick check in box or ‘worry box’.
Playground Leaders

If your playground leaders are anything like ours then their favourite part is creating new games and playing these games with the younger children. Of course they may still be able to be outside with their younger classmates – but we want do discourage them from getting too close!

  • creating videos of their new games which staff can then share with the younger children and then record the children playing them. In fact, creating videos of sports games (or inventing new games) is a great wet PE lesson.
  • Managing a rota for the sharing of PE equipment to ensure that it is safe.

Cross Bubble Collaboration

Reading buddies and maths game afternoons are an area that has ground to a halt in the ‘new normal’. Of course children can still share challenges and ideas virtually – through online games or online documents to collaborate on. You can record the older children reading their favourite stories or poems to share with the younger children. Older children could lead an assembly (socially distanced…) – or could record their assembly.

I will add to this as ideas develop – and please do add your thoughts and comments below.