The not-so-new world of online learning with the Further Forces programme

For many the use of online learning in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been a new experience, but for trainees on the ETF’s Further Forces programme, it has always come as standard, as National Head of Technical Education Cerian Ayres explains.

The education sector’s reaction to Covid-19 has resulted in a plethora of new online activities to help teachers and students partake in distance learning. For the Further Forces programme, this world of virtual education is nothing new. The Education and Training Foundation programme provides fully funded training for people leaving the Armed Forces to become technical teachers in Further Education. The teacher training is delivered by the University of Portsmouth to trainees who are based throughout England; therefore, blended learning is the order of the day.

The Further Forces programme was designed to be flexible. We aim to provide highly skilled trainees for those hard-to-fill technical teaching vacancies, so we work with FE providers anywhere in England.  Our trainees also need to access flexible learning as many of them are training to teach while working in FE and carrying out deployment duties in the current situation. So we have always used blended learning with most of the engagement taking place online; this means our trainees can work towards their teaching qualification in a location and at a time that suits them. It also means that trainees develop their skills in using technology for online, remote teaching and learning and this has been invaluable not only for themselves but also for the way in which they have been able to support their teaching colleagues, who have been thrust into teaching and learning online during the Covid-19 lockdown.

With over two years’ experience, the Further Forces programme has built up a good understanding of what online learning works best. Dave Mather, Academic Lead for the Further Forces programme: “The principle to online learning has to be the same as in the classroom: it is all about how you want your learners to progress. Therefore, it is important not to get distracted by lots of bells and whistles but to work out how each virtual tool can help you engage and support your learners most effectively.”

The Further Forces programme’s online learning reaches beyond the academic, as each trainee is also provided with a one-to-one mentor. The mentors are all subject specialists and they are paired up with trainees with the same subject specialism; this means that they may not be local. Therefore, the mentoring is largely done through phone and video calls as well as sharing online resources.

Now, with the current challenges of Covid-19, Further Forces trainees are able to translate their experience of blended learning and pastoral support to help their students through online learning. 

Leigh Pickard-Morrish, Further Forces Trainee and teacher at Exeter College, explains: “The support and mentoring that the Further Forces Programme has provided continues to inform my practice. The teaching delivery model that I have developed has remained successful through the Covid-19 pandemic, through the continued delivery of online and blended knowledge modules during the lockdown.”

The Education and Training Foundation Further Forces programme is funded by the Department for Education, and supported by the Ministry of Defence and Gatsby Charitable Foundation. It is for individuals leaving the Armed Forces (or those who have left in the last five years) who wish to transition into Further Education technical teaching roles in England, using their technical expertise, knowledge, and skills. We train all Service Leavers and match them with FE providers looking to fill technical teaching vacancies. There is no charge to the Service Leavers or FE providers. To find out more visit

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