CEO Strategy Group 2 (Meeting 2) – Remote Learning and Working

The second meeting of Forum Strategy’s #TrustLeaders strategic group on remote working and learning took place on 4 February. The session was chaired by Kath Kelly (CEO of Lionheart Academies Trust), with contributions from Ofsted, ACAS, and Paul Howard-Jones (Professor of Neuroscience and Education at the University of Bristol). The group is one of three currently looking at key strategic issues for CEOs. This summary of the event was written by Rachael Gacs:

Kath Kelly opened the session by reflecting on the continually shifting landscape of teaching and learning over 2020/21. The session, Kath explained, would offer colleagues the vital time and space to reflect on what they’ve learned so far about effective remote learning practices, and how to further improve moving forward. Kath shared her hopes that the session ahead would offer much support for colleagues navigating the shifting landscape, with an agenda addressing what might be considered ‘best practice’, as well as considering how to support staff working from home.

Kath introduced Donna Neil (head of research) and Anna Trethewey (head of strategy), both from Ofsted, to speak about the emerging findings from Ofsted’s review of remote learning. This review was put together from work conducted in the second part of 2020, with research including 700 interim school visits, surveys of teachers and parents, and information from 22 schools (11 primary and 11 secondary) who were confident that their remote learning solution was maturing. Through the report Ofsted were able to tease out information regarding what is different and what is the same between classroom and remote teaching, what can be replicated, what some of the specific challenges of remote learning are, and how challenges might be overcome.

Overall, remote learning was found to work best when it was kept simple, and mirrored classroom teaching as closely as possible.

The report showed that nearly all leaders valued maintaining their current curriculum, with their main aim being to adapt it to remote provision. However, Ofsted’s survey of 2000 teachers found that only 15% felt they had been able to align their curriculum remotely so far. In terms of pedagogy, a third of teachers said they lacked confidence in delivering remote education. Parents reported being most concerned about their child’s engagement, with 40% citing this as the main challenge. Ofsted recognise that schools are currently on a journey, that remote learning solutions will be established through a process of continuous development, adjustment and refinement, and that, ultimately, remote learning will always be an ‘imperfect solution’ compared to learning in the classroom.

Donna explained that Ofsted’s report on remote learning has primarily been presented in a ‘solution-focused’ manner. Some of the report’s key strategies include: shortening the length of lessons to limit screen time; delivering learning in ‘bitesize’ segments; using a variety of methods to present information; having clear systems for pupils to ask questions; and developing different ways to provide feedback.

The report also includes a number of ideas to keep pupils engaged (and to measure that engagement), and also some ways to try to assess pupils’ learning remotely. Overall, remote learning was found to work best when it was kept simple, and mirrored classroom teaching as closely as possible. Ofsted’s report can be found here, Remote education research – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and a framework to help education providers identify strengths and areas for improvement in their remote provision can be found here,  Review your remote education provision – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

The group then shared some of their own strategies, especially around measuring pupil engagement. Ideas included using the ‘Insights’ app (which tracks attendance, downloads, submissions etc.), and judging engagement on pupil output (rather than just showing up), with teachers inputting end of week ‘engagement score’ data, based on quality of work submitted compared to ability.

Next, the group welcomed Dwinder Virk from ACAS, who gave leaders the opportunity to reflect upon how they are supporting staff working remotely. Dwinder encouraged the CEOs to support their staff in having a healthy home working environment by ensuring they have the appropriate equipment needed to do their job safely and effectively from home. The importance of communication was also emphasised, with CEOs encouraged to make sure that channels of regular communication exist for every member of staff. This is crucial to monitor wellbeing, motivation, and to build trust, so that each member of staff feels they have someone to turn to if they are struggling in any regard.

CEOs were reminded of the importance of having a home-working policy.

Managers should also be vigilant for signs of problems, whether stress or loneliness, or even more significant concerns, such as serious mental health issues or domestic abuse. Signs of potential problems may include an individual becoming uncharacteristically subdued, demonstrating poor resilience, poor concentration, or avoiding communication all together. CEOs were reminded of the importance of having a home-working policy. Finally, leaders were encouraged to reflect on where they get their own support from, and to prioritise their own wellbeing too, and the group discussed their sources of support with one another.

The final input of the session came from Professor Paul Howard Jones who shared his insights into the impact of technology on our young people from the perspective of neuroscience. Paul discussed how technology can literally change the shape of our brains, with certain areas becoming noticeably larger and more developed in response to significant technology use. However, he reassured colleagues that using technology was not harmful for children per se, with the caveats that addictive use which gets in the way of exercise, going outdoors, or ‘real-life’ social interaction, or excessive use late in the day, could cause problems.

good sleep achieves two things; it prepares and rests you for the next day, and it’s also vital for learning, as it’s when we are asleep that we consolidate our learning.

Night-time use of technology, Paul explained, had the effect of disrupting sleep due to the combination of light from screens suppressing melatonin, and the stimulating effect of using technology which keeps the brain overly active. This is a concern because good sleep achieves two things; it prepares and rests you for the next day, and it’s also vital for learning, as it’s when we are asleep that we consolidate our learning. There is a very clear negative correlation between daytime sleepiness and academic achievement, and disturbed sleep will inevitably mean young people will also forget more of what they learned during the day. For these reasons, digital hygiene before bedtime is very important.

Paul concluded by explaining that, generally speaking, looking after children’s wellbeing online mainly requires transfer of the offline wisdom we already have to the online world. Technology is not good or bad for young people in and of itself, but it is vital that adults support children to use technology wisely. Paul pointed CEOs to the website Science of Learning – Engage Build Consolidate (scienceoflearning-ebc.org) to find out more about the impact of technology on young people and their learning.

Forum Strategy members are able to download the slides from the session below


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CEO Strategy Group 2 will meet again in the late Spring / early Summer.

Read previous summaries of this CEO Strategy Group’s meetings

Find out more about the two other current CEO Strategy Groups here:

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