The digital skills team at Manchester Adult Education Service (MAES) has just started delivering Essential Digital Skills Qualifications (EDSQs) with the Gateway awarding body after running five pilot courses.
The pilot has consisted of a fast-track Foundation course over six weeks leading to a 12-week combined Entry 3 and Level 1 EDS course. They have found a real appetite for this type of digital skills course amongst learners. It has proved challenging to find the right approach to managing the large volume of content in the EDS curriculum and the team is now on their third scheme of work. This is the story of their journey with reflections on lessons learned.
To begin the planning process, the MAES team met for an ‘away day’ before the start of the first Covid-related lockdown in spring 2020 in order to focus on what they wanted to achieve with the introduction of Essential Digital Skills courses and to plan delivery approaches. The invited speakers from a number of organisations:
As a result of the away day, they decided to trial a six-week, fast track Foundation course leading into a 12-week EDS course at Entry 3 and Level 1. They also decided to experiment with a combined Entry 3 and Level 1 cohort to allow for flexibility with the offer and make sure there was a sufficiently big cohort.
During the first lockdown the team wasn’t teaching full time so there was an opportunity to focus on CPD. Tutors were asked to ‘buddy up’ and look at different parts of the Essential Digital Skills framework and standards. They were also signposted to the ETF’s Essential Digital Skills CPD programme. A number of the MAES team completed all of the ETF EDS CPD modules. Some commented that they found it most useful to complete the modules once they had started delivery.
“Tutors had to get their head round EDS…” Curriculum Manager Emma Langlois talks about preparing to deliver EDSQs.
“Going back into the modules…” ICT Tutor Nazia Khan found the ETF Essential Digital Skills CPD useful once underway with delivery.
MAES ran their first free RARPA course for EDS in September. They have now run five cohorts (as at beginning of March 2021). They aimed for 12 learners per cohort. Given the pandemic, they have largely delivered in blended mode using Google Classroom and Google Meet.
They tried to group learners into Entry 3 and Level 1, but it didn’t always work out neatly after initial assessment, so they decided to combine cohorts, which has been challenging for the tutors. Level 1 learners have been working on their digital skills asynchronously in their own time, as well as joining in with the Entry 3 learner sessions.
The scheme of work has evolved with each iteration of the course. They are now on their third version. They initially broke the curriculum down into linear skills areas but have since moved to a task-based approach.
They have not yet developed a standardised scheme of work across all learners and are still tailoring to different groups of learners, which tutors prefer.
The courses have been very well received. The team have seen a real appetite for this approach to digital skills by their learners – not just for life and work but also for learning using technology. Emma also feels that the course has offered a real opportunity for the team to be creative and to explore different options as there is so much scope in the Essential Digital Skills framework.
“Learners do want that [Essential Digital Skills] qualification and have been asking for it.” Emma Langlois, Curriculum Manager for Preparation for Work and Digital Skills.
Tutors at Manchester Adult Education reflect on what they like about the new EDSQs.
“A breath of fresh air…” Tutor Chris Hargrave thinks the new EDS approach is much more relevant.
“… whereas before IT was a little bit bland.” Tutor Nazia Khan feels there are lots of interesting avenues to explore in the EDS course material.
MAES ran a well-publicised communications campaign in summer 2020 for digital skills courses generally. They also drew on learners from existing courses, such as maths, English and ESOL, and learners have been referred via the Council who need to learn digital skills for new job roles. Partnership working has been a major factor in recruitment. MAES works with other areas of the Council including the Work and Skills team and the Libraries team, which both have remits for digital inclusion. The MAES team contributes to a helpline run by those teams and this has acted as a way of engaging with new learners. Area Adult Education Manager Daniel Shercliff indicates that recruitment for digital courses has increased this past year but how much of this is related to demand for new Essential Digital Skills Qualifications is unclear.
Initially MAES decided to wait for their current awarding body TLM to secure approval for their EDSQs with Ofqual but this was delayed.
A member of the team carried out a detailed comparison of both TLM and Gateway EDSQs and assessed the fit with the MAES learners. This led to a decision to go with Gateway in December and start the registration process. Registration was completed at the beginning of March so MAES will be offering their first EDSQs from 19 April. They will also offer a fast-track course for learners that have been on RARPA pilots to gain the EDS qualifications.
The EDSQ curriculum is very comprehensive and there is a lot to be covered in the 45 guided learning hours. The MAES team adopted a trial-and-error approach to developing the scheme of work for pilot EDSQs, adapting it along the way. The tutors hope that in transitioning to the actual qualification, there will still be room for experimentation. They have enjoyed the scope in the EDS framework that has enabled them to relate the curriculum to particular learners’ needs and interests.
Originally the team assumed assessment would be portfolio based, but they have had to adapt to practical assessments.
Collaboration across the teaching team has played a big part, sharing ideas on how to tackle the more challenging aspects of teaching things like transacting online.
“We’re on our third scheme of work…” Curriculum Manager Emma Langlois describes the need to be ready to experiment and adapt delivery for EDSQs.
“Making it really bespoke to that learner’s life…” Digital Inclusion Programme Lead Kate Lindley enjoys the freedom of the EDS approach to focus on things relevant to learners’ lives.
“Be prepared to change, there’s a lot of trial and error…” Curriculum Manager Emma Langlois offers advice to other providers considering EDSQs.
Tutors felt that learners on the EDS courses responded positively to the new approach of the EDS curriculum. We interviewed three learners who shared their experiences of the courses.
The next step is to deliver the Gateway EDSQs and find out how that works in practice. They are also looking at embedding EDS in wider provision and progression opportunities following Level 1 EDSQ, as well as courses for those in the workplace and a bridging course between foundation and Entry 3 EDSQ.
Manchester Adult Education Service (MAES) is Ofsted rated ‘Good’ and delivers courses for progression in life and work to over 9,000 part-time learners across seven centres. MAES has a digital strategy which helped the team to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the transition to online and blended learning. The service has invested heavily in Google Education using Google Classroom and Meet with a large-scale Chromebook loan scheme.