In the past, Scotland’s online learning platform Glow has been the subject of major criticism, with accusations about it being clunky and slow and a waste of money well documented.
Such complaints have abated in recent times, however, and now – if schools close due to coronavirus – Glow is being seen by the government and education directors as key to keeping learning going at a critical time of year for senior pupils.
The education director of one of Scotland’s largest education authorities, Carrie Lindsay, says a key part of her authority’s planning for school closures is making sure that all pupils and teachers have Glow usernames and passwords.
However, recent extreme weather events, including the “Beast from the East” meant much of that groundwork had already been laid, said Ms Lindsay.
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Ms Lindsay is the director of education and children’s services in one of Scotland’s largest education authorities, Fife Council. The authority has 157 primary, secondary and special schools and almost 50,000 pupils and is the third largest education authority in Scotland after Glasgow and Edinburgh, according to the latest pupil census figures.
To date, the main messages the council has been getting out to schools in response to coronavirus have centred around handwashing and making sure – should closures happen – that pupils and teachers will have access to Glow, she said.
“It’s about trying to be as accessible in as many different ways as we can,” said Ms Lindsay, who is also president of national education directors body ADES.
This chimes with the advice from the Scottish government earlier this month, advising education directors to ensure pupils could access Glow, “Scotland’s nationally available digital learning platform”.
It added: “Learners and teachers can access all the tools and features at any time, on any device with an internet connection. This can help learning to continue outside the classroom in a variety of ways when pupils or staff are unable to attend school or during events such as school closures.”
The key information schools were still waiting for, said Ms Lindsay, was from the exam body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).
Schools needed information on the kind of evidence the SQA would require if pupils were unable to sit exams, she said. They were also waiting to hear if exams, which are due to start in late April, would go ahead.
Ms Lindsay said: “We need to know their thoughts on alternative assessments that could be used if pupils are unable to sit the exams and if they have thoughts about changes in the timing of the exams? They are due to start on 27 April, which is likely to be a time when cases are higher than they currently are. It’s just about contingency planning.”
Tes Scotland revealed yesterday that some schools were putting pupils through additional prelim exams in order to have evidence for the SQA in the event of closures. Ms Lindsay said over the coming days there was a window of opportunity during which schools could ensure they had the evidence the SQA needed – but first they needed guidance on what the body would be looking for.
Ms Lindsay added: “Of course we have had situations where sometimes young people have been unable to take exams for health reasons and we have been able to use previous robust assessment that has been done. The SQA is used to these situations but they tend to be small numbers, the difficulty is numbers might be larger, so would similar information be used?”
She added: “What we want to know from the SQA is the information they will require so we can make sure schools gather it. Teachers could end up going off sick as well so we need to make sure we know where that evidence is, where it is being stored and what it can be used for.”
However, Ms Lindsay said she would rather have accurate information than information that had been “hurriedly put together”.
“Children and young people have one opportunity to get these exams so we need to work together to get the best advice,” she concluded.