7th June 2022
The Future of Blended & Online learning in UK Boarding Schools
By Patricia Moores
This week, Pat Moores, Director of UK Education Guide, writes about the future of online and blended learning in UK independent schools.

Two years ago, in the midst of the first UK lockdown, we first looked at this subject and got some great feedback from schools.

The overall feeling was that schools couldn’t wait to get back to face-to-face teaching, but on a broader education front, the value of increased communication with parents online was something no school was considering giving up.

Two years on, the value of enhanced communications with parents is something that hasn’t changed: “What this technology has really done is transform our connection with parents, mostly through the convenience of zoom meetings which can be shorter and more frequent, not just parents’ evenings, but disciplinaries, pastoral concerns, all sorts,” says Cory Lowde, Headteacher at Box Hill School, and Cory’s views are still shared by many school leaders.

However, visa delays caused in part by the war in Ukraine mean that some schools have had to maintain online teaching, not out of choice, but out of necessity. As Mark Jeynes , Director of  Bishopstrow College & Padworth College , explains: “The visa delay is affecting our ability to get pupils who have enrolled into the country and so we have decided to continue with online teaching and have ring fenced teaching staff to ensure we offer 20 hours of teaching per week to these pupils in their own time zone. We are offering an almost full curriculum, including the usual 1:1 sessions with Bishopstrow’s Principal, so plans for the onward placement of these pupils at other UK schools, in line with the Bishopstrow model, is not negatively impacted.”

Pat Moores, UK Education Guide.

Whilst some schools have been forced to continue with online teaching due to visa delays, the staffing challenge this presents to most schools that are using Microsoft Teams or another synchronous learning platform to deliver online learning cannot be overstated.

During the pandemic, most teaching was online and so significant teaching resource could be moved to online delivery, but now schools are stretched, maintaining a full curriculum for pupils on campus and online delivery for new students that have been unable to get visas in time to arrive in the UK for face-to-face teaching. Delivering in ‘real time’ via Microsoft Teams, rather than via an asynchronous Learning management system, means schools are often delivering at least some teaching in one time zone or another 18-20 hours per day, putting a real strain on teaching resources.

What about schools that will be continuing with an online/blended learning model, long term?

There are not many schools that, out of choice, appear to be embracing online/blended learning delivery ongoing, but there are some that see there are real opportunities and merits in maintaining some online provision and delivering new online programmes.

Ellesmere College  is one institution that is committed to online delivery:

“At Ellesmere, we have looked to ensure a blended mix is always available to the pupils. We use a learning platform called FROG and all lesson notes, worksheets, filmed revision sessions are available on here and all work set is done through this platform. This creates a personalised planner for each pupil,” says Stephen Mullock , Deputy Head, External Relations.

FROG is particularly relevant to a new, online International Foundation Programme (IFP) that Ellesmere is offering from September 2022: “We have looked at a blended approach with both asynchronous (AL) or synchronous learning (SL) for the International Foundation Programme,” says Stephen.

“SL is a key part of any learning experience and for the teachers, the ability to give live and personal feedback is a key part of the education model,” adds Stephen.

However, as he stresses, the sustainability of the course, from both the college’s and learner’s perspective, is also reliant on a good balance of AL to allow for independent study to be completed any time, anywhere in the world.

Learning management systems that have a built in element of AI allowing for personalisation of learning are also now coming to the fore, benefiting those schools that invested in them during the pandemic.

Westbourne School has recently been shortlisted for a TES School Award: Best Use of Technology. At the heart of this innovation has been a focus on the individual learner. The new ‘Century’ technology at Westbourne, which uses artificial intelligence-driven learning programmes to tailor learning to the child, has meant that pupils at the school, throughout the pandemic and beyond, have continued to be supported one-on-one, according to their individual needs.

Post lockdown, the school is committed to maintaining and extending the use of personalised learning software: “We continue to use Century for English and Maths as part of our core offering. Every student uses it at home to complement their learning, and teachers can set homework on it. Every child gets a piece of homework that is tailored for them, so it’s stretching them where they need to be stretched, and supporting them where there are knowledge gaps,” says, Director of R&D/Online Learning, Stuart Ayres.

Additionally, the school has installed advanced AV tech that will soon be rolled out to every classroom. Absent or overseas classmates can therefore still join through Google Classroom. The camera is placed amongst the students in the class, the students can see and hear their classmates, as well as the teachers, and this really helps remote pupils to feel part of daily classroom life.

No one knows what the future holds and positively maintaining a sustainable online/blended offer does look like a smart move, but investing at a time when school funds have been squeezed is certainly not easy…

The full article is published here


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