Spotlight - Digital inclusion, evolution and flexibility is key to staying one small step ahead of the Covid-19 virus

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive Weston College, shares the college’s approach to adapting to the pandemic, which has focused on digital inclusion and flexibility.

As a Microsoft Showcase College and the West of England regional Institute of Technology, we have built significant capability around remote education since the first lockdown in March 2020. At that time, we were one of the first UK colleges to switch its entire provision to remote using Microsoft Teams (within seven days with all timetables seamlessly moved across), including the ability to host one-to-one remote support and services under our #MyVirtualCollege roll out.

Momentum in this area has not waned as pandemic restrictions have eased and there is still a strong commitment to evolving our digital offers. As Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College and as one of the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in SEND, I have wanted to make sure that no-one was left behind. Our digital team consistently works in partnership with the college’s inclusive practice team (over 1000 SEND learners) to create models of remote and blended learning which ensures that SEND leaners, vulnerable and hard-to-engage learners and those with complex needs continue to access high-quality, interactive and motivating education despite the pandemic. This learning then informs our Centre for Excellence offer.

Blended mixed delivery

By creating and implementing a blended delivery model, some learners have accessed their ‘normal’ timetabled sessions from their homes virtually, whilst others access lessons from the college environment simultaneously through a mixed delivery model.

This has been extremely effective in continuing to support learners with SEND, so they continue to feel connected to the college and their peer groups. This also has helped with establishing daily routines and essential structures at home. Our approach has been crucial to SEND learners facing times of self-isolation and for those with heightened anxiety around Covid-19.

Overcoming Omicron

The model has also been a lifeline during the outbreak of the Omicron variant, where staffing shortages and isolations have provided a new threat for teaching continuity. The staff working with learners with SEND have once again been highly innovative and inclusive in adapting their approach. When staff members have needed to self-isolate at short notice (but have been well enough to teach), the continuity of teaching their learner groups has been enabled by flipping to the mixed delivery platform.

For example, off-site teachers have provided live lessons to on-site learners through the use of an interactive whiteboard with the help of support staff in the classroom. As a result, learners have received essential consistency of staffing, limiting the need to change staff timetables and reducing the need to cross-over groups (bubbles) separated to comply with Covid-19 restrictions.

Implementing a mixed delivery approach

Our college has adopted a variety of practices to ensure a mixed delivery approach, such as:

  • Investing in high quality webcams and wireless headset microphones in each classroom, enabling teachers to move freely around the teaching space.
  • Using the loudspeaker function to ensure all verbal contributions of learners in the classroom and at home can be heard and dialogue is two-way.
  • Curriculum materials are distributed through the Teams chat function to ensure all learners work on the materials simultaneously.
  • We have adapted personalised timetables to reduce the ‘Teams fatigue’ experienced by incorporating regular breaks and off-line activities.
  • We have created extra-curricular social activities so learners can continue to build friendships and develop effective communication.
  • We have provided recipes and ingredients for ‘Budget Cookery’, which enables learners to develop their independence in their own homes and share their creations with their peers.
  • Microsoft Forms has been a beneficial tool to gauge the understanding and progress of remote learners, using pre-prepared knowledge checks and assessment of progress.
  • Tools such as Class Notebook and Teams Chat display options have enabled for better real-time class engagement input from remote participants.

We’re keen to hear from anyone who would like to work collaboratively with the CfE, so please do get in touch with your suggestions and ideas by emailing at CfESEND@weston.ac.uk.

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