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Adapting to the new normal - supporting learners

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a great deal of disruption to learning, the impact of which will be felt long into the next academic year and possibly beyond.

How can you support your learners during these unprecedented times and in the future?

Recognising the big changes

The sector has been forced to quickly adapt to new ways of doing things to ensure education continued across the country. This inevitably resulted in some challenges along the way and while some of the changes may not be long term, some may be here to stay.

Let’s explore the big changes.

Learning has moved from public to personal spaces

The most obvious change has been learning shifting from the classroom to the home, with technology needing to be adopted and improved to accommodate this. While some students have since returned to the classroom, a significant number continue to learn remotely and this is likely to continue until the new academic year. Our recent blog how to engage learners while working remotely, can help you to continue to support your learners who are learning at home.

What does it mean for the future?

The sector needs to continue to embed technology into learning. Young people are used to being surrounded by technology and as such, they expect to see elements of this in their learning, whether that’s a portal for submitting homework digitally, or group activities being carried out on tablets. It’s also expected the shift to online learning will continue to rise, particularly for 16+ learners and CPD courses. Technology needs to be readily available, easy to use and fit for purpose, so those learners choosing to learn remotely can access timely interactions with tutors and instant feedback on their learning, as they would do in the classroom environment.

A shift in the pace of learning

It’s been well reported during lockdown that the pace of learning amongst individuals has varied, with concerns across the sector that some learners may have fallen behind their peers. A recent report from The National Foundation for Educational Research showed that school leaders from the most disadvantaged schools in the UK believe that only 30% of their students are engaging with school work during lockdown, compared to 49% in the least deprived schools. The top reason cited for this is lack of access to IT and equipment that’s required to do the work from home.

What does it mean for the future?

Education leaders need to look at their approaches and available support to identify how they can better support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to close the attainment gap. Can schools, colleges and training providers work collaboratively with other local schools and centres to support those most in need? Could loaning equipment be an option in some cases? Or at the very least sharing best practice and coming together as a sector to look at how we can work with local authorities and the Government on this issue. Although the Government pledged £85m for its free laptop scheme this has been met with some frustration from sector leaders, who say this isn’t enough.

A change in focus from teaching to learning

While learning remotely, there’s been a big switch in focus from teaching to learning; with parents stepping in to help conduct home schooling. As education slowly starts to come out of lockdown there’s an expectation that parents, who have had much more of an input into their child’s education, will want to continue this, particularly in the immediate term, while the sector looks to adapt and make up for lost time.

What does it mean for the future?

Education leaders may need to explore ways of consulting parents about their child’s education; whether that’s scheduling in remote meetings or parents’ evenings, setting up a parent committee or providing better support for parents so they feel adequately equipped to support their children with work. This means that learning can more seamlessly fit into home life too and learners will feel more supported outside of the classroom; this could be extremely important for those who feel they’ve fell behind. The Government has also announced that it is setting up a new online panel of 5,000 pupils and parents to inform coronavirus policymaking, which further emphasises the expectation that parents will be more involved in education, at least in the short term.

NCFE – supporting you and your learners

While emphasis has been focused on online learning, it’s important to remember that this is an enabler of learning and there’s more significant factors that need to be looked at as we try to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

Mental health should be a big focus. Young people across the country have been thrust into unprecedented territory, having to navigate the dynamics of a new way of learning, remote friendships, relationships at home and potentially dealing with bereavement. This is in addition to coping with a new virus that has swept the world, all whilst trying to maintain some level of normality and dealing with the normal day to day experiences that young people go through; it can seem like a lot to deal with.

As schools and colleges reopen, environments will look different too; cafes will be closed, parts of playgrounds cordoned off, learning spaces will be reconfigured and cleaning stations set up. Another stark reminder of the ‘new normal’ which could affect students as they return to learning.

For schools, Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) subjects are arguably more important now than ever to build learners’ self-efficency and develop their resilience, so they are able to meet the challenges of creating a happy and successful adult life.

Across the sector, supporting learners’ mental health will be paramount. Our recent blogs managing stress inside and outside of the learning environment and focussing on mental health to improve learner outcomes and retention provide more in depth guidance on this.

Lastly, supporting remote learning will continue to be a focus for the foreseeable future. NCFE alongside our premier partner, Learning Curve Group, has developed high quality qualifications which are suitable for online delivery and supported by delivery-ready resources, to help learners succeed now and in the future.


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