CEO Strategy Group 2 -Remote learning and working

Forum Strategy has established 3 CEO strategy groups to focus on strategic priorities amongst the reactivity and operational nature of managing the pandemic. These include groups on pupil and staff wellbeing; remote learning and working; and environmental sustainability; and can be attended by all #TrustLeaders network members. The following is a summary of the first meeting of the CEO Strategy Group on remote learning and working, which took place on 30th November 2020. The session was chaired by Kath Kelly, the CEO of Lionheart Academies Trust (an EdTech demonstrator school).

You can view the summary of CEO Strategy Group 1 – pupil and staff wellbeing, here: CEO Strategy Group 1 – Pupil and Staff Wellbeing

Context for CEOs and embarking on this agenda

The ‘Being the CEO’ report 2020, published for #TrustLeaders in October, highlighted that remote learning and technological capacity is seen as a top organisational priority for a significant proportion of CEOs, both in the year ahead and beyond. The urgency around building greater technological capacity and expertise to support remote learning and working has been accelerated by the pandemic. However, the Being The CEO report also showed that CEOs do not currently feel confident in overseeing development in this area. The aim of this group is, therefore, to support Trust Leaders to reflect on how they strategically plan for and resource remote learning and technological capacity, post Covid-19, and in the long-term.

Michael Pain, founder of Forum Strategy, introduced the session by emphasising that the use of remote learning and technology poses many questions for the CEOs of academy trusts. A key purpose of this group is to empower CEOs to ask themselves the right questions, which should include:

  • What is your organisation’s vision regarding the use of technology?
  • How does technology currently serve your organisation, and how can technology serve it more effectively moving forward?
  • How does your trust’s use of technology improve the educational provision of pupils?
  • How does your trust’s use of technology improve organisational outcomes?
  • How can it be used to have a positive impact upon staff – particularly in terms of wellbeing, workload, and professional development?
  • Could effective use of technology be an investment which saves your organisation money in the long run?
  • Can technology be used as a tool which helps to build better community relationships?

Michael said that it is very easy for trusts and organisations to become servants of technology, and that beginning with a clear vision and expectations for how technology improves the experience for all – with objectives – is key to trusts (and their staff and pupils) becoming ‘masters’ of it. Too many organisations have seen customers, staff and finances exacerbated by technological failures and frustrations, and tech should always serve the bigger vision and goals.

Learning from one another’s experiences

Kath Kelly, the group’s Chair, began by setting out her hopes for the group, not least the ability for CEOs to come together to learn from each other; especially  when the pace of change is significant and trusts need to deliver the very best outcomes for pupils. She shared the recent experiences of Lionheart Academies Trust with regards to remote learning and technology.

When remote learning began in March, the trust faced a huge challenge because many of their disadvantaged students could not access learning due to lack of access to a device or the internet. Since, as a trust, they have made a substantial investment in their technological provision, purchasing around 2000 Chromebooks that have been distributed to the learners that need them most, along with internet access. Staff without a home device have also been provided with laptops.

A second challenge that the trust faced was the huge variation in skills and competency, of both students and staff, when using technology. In response to this a series of sessions were delivered for students about how to engage in online learning, which also included the expectations of them in terms of behaviour and conduct during online lessons. The trust-wide priorities for the year were also adapted to include CPD for all staff around technology, which addressed technical skills, as well as pedagogy around remote learning.

Kathy believes that as a result of their investment in technology over the past few months, Lionheart Academies Trust is now in a much stronger position to use technology to affect positive change moving forward. For example, through advances in teaching and learning, and the opportunities for greater staff collaboration, and more flexible working, which technology can provide.

Using research to inform best practice for remote learning

The group was then joined by Tony McAleavy and Sarah Horrocks of the Education Development Trust. During 2020 Tony has worked with the EdTech Hub analysing research on remote learning during the Covid-19 crisis, and Sarah has worked with a range of schools, supporting them in their move to remote and blended learning.

Tony shared with the group his insights regarding what research suggests is best practice in pedagogy for remote teaching, based on his work for the EdTech Hub on the topic. He explained to the group that the essence of good remote teaching is no different from the essence of good face to face teaching in terms of the components, but that the physical distance introduces extra challenges, particularly related to assessment, access to fewer visual clues, and less real time information. Therefore, teachers must be very intentional about addressing these challenges by using every available opportunity to demonstrate their presence to their students, and ensuring that they engage with their students in a variety of different ways. This can include instructing, guiding, questioning, listening, assessing, advising, challenging, and reassuring students as appropriate. Research also shows the need to create a sense of a ‘community of inquiry’ which involves the learners having a sense of belonging, and of ‘working together’ in a class of other learners. Therefore, an effective remote teacher must also intentionally promote this sense of community.

Sarah Horrocks then encouraged colleagues to reflect and feedback about their trusts use of technology and remote learning over previous months. Participants reflected on what they felt they had learnt over the past few months, and specifically, what had worked well, and what hadn’t. They then considered which aspects of their approach they wanted to continue to use moving forward, what they wanted to leave behind, and what areas they want to develop further.

Some key considerations

Through discussion, the group considered some key issues and areas that are worthy of further exploration – both with their boards and teams, and with each others.

In terms of some of the key issues and barriers for learning and teaching, the group noted:

– Lack of access to technology for some pupils

– A lack of quiet space at home / away from site in which to learn

– The need for self regulation skills & routine

– Potential for less meaningful interaction

In terms of key strategic issues and opportunities facing trusts, the group noted:

  • The choice of technological hardware, software and training is a crucial one – it could become an investment or a financial drain for a trust. This is a crucial issue that many trusts and CEOs are currently wrestling with as they try to invest in the resources that have the greatest impact and longevity. This led to an interesting discussion, and to the conclusion that it is crucial for CEOs and central teams to regularly seek feedback from staff, pupils and parents on how they feel about the use of technology within the trust, and where it is helping them, or hindering them, most. Leaders of trusts have a significant ‘market research’ base, and can then use this feedback to guide their decisions moving forwards. It is important that CEOs understand how all their ‘users’ feel about the platforms – not least teachers- before they invest substantially. The choice must also relate to the board’s and executive’s team’s wider vision for the trust and remote learning.
  • There is a real opportunity for technology and remote working to help reduce workload and raise standards. Many of the CEOs present explained a new found commitment to giving teachers (and other staff) more time to work from home where possible, and encouraging teachers across their schools to use the technological platforms to collaborate, share and undertake peer review on planning and resources. Working from home and remote collaboration between teachers across schools are key ways in which the profession can ensure it is more appealing to new recruits and retain staff. This becomes even more important as other sectors look to compete for talent through ‘home working’ opportunities. However, the group were also clear that nothing replaces teacher presence or physical meeting of colleagues and that what is envisaged is a shift, not a revolution, in working practices.
  • The quality assurance of online learning and resources is important, but a culture of peer review is key to getting the culture right. This is an area that is still emerging and evolving. In some ways online teaching offers a better opportunity for headteachers and senior staff to review the educational experience of pupils and to quality assure provision. It also provides an opportunity to understand pupils’ needs and development areas in real time. However, culturally, it is important that the platforms are not seen as a way to create more ‘scrutiny’ of teaching, but as a positive force for teachers and leaders across settings to work together to refine learning and teaching and pupil progress; with the greater availability of collective expertise of professionals driving strategies, improvement and QA. However, peer review and collaboration – in order to improve and refine both teaching and resources – needs careful co-ordination, protocols and support. This was seen as an area where leaders can add real value.

Legal considerations of remote learning

The final input of the session came from Chris Billington of Wrigleys Solictors, who addressed some of the key legal considerations and implications around remote learning and working. Chris explained that all schools and trusts should now have child protection and safeguarding policies which specifically refer to the measures in place to protect children who are receiving remote education. Some of the trusts present had undertaken wholescale reviews of all their policies looking at them through the ‘prisim’ of remote learning as well as face to face provision, and all trusts are encouraged to do this. Staff training and understanding on the back of these changes is also essential. More information on the legal considerations around remote learning and working can be found through the following link: Safeguarding and remote learning in the time of Covid-19 – Wrigleys Solicitors LLP

The next meeting if the Group will take place in early 2021 and is once again open to all #TrustLeaders members. Date TBC via members’ and subscribers’ briefings.

Find out more about our CEO Strategy Groups here

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