'The expectations of online learning are higher'

Secondary teacher Kirsty Ferns reflects on the return to online learning in Scotland amid the latest lockdown

Kirsty Ferns

Online learning: This week has been hard but necessary, writes one secondary school teacher

When it was announced in December that there would be a week’s delay to the return to school for us, I was fairly confident that my team and I were ready, and we pulled together the tasks to be done before we finished for Christmas.

I am fortunate to work in a Glasgow school, and therefore every pupil and teacher has an iPad, but I also work in a school where an incredible amount of work has been done to increase the digital skills of staff.

My confidence dropped, however, after the announcement that we would be undertaking remote learning for longer than expected.


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My team used the remainder of our holiday and a few days before online school started to prepare. The school message was clear: keep it simple, don’t overwhelm with emails or social media posts and try to make it workable.

Coronavirus and schools: Making the most of online learning

Well, it’s the end of week one and it’s been interesting. I was perfectly happy, albeit nervous, to do live lessons with my senior pupils. It was great to chat with them and check in, and also get their support as I experimented with different options available to me on our platform, Microsoft Teams. They were patient and understanding, which really helped my nerves.

We are making sure to back up any live lessons with an accompanying PowerPoint or notes for pupils who can’t or don’t attend, to ensure that they can catch up.

I’ve been really pleased with the pupils who receive music lessons, as their engagement has been great.

Unfortunately, the other platform we use, Showbie, doesnt allow video lessons, which is a shame as this would have allowed us to connect in a live lesson with younger pupils. I certainly don’t want to cause further confusion to pupils and families by switching over to Teams, so we’re trying out other methods to engage with them and so far it’s working.

I have really felt for our school digital leaders this past week, who have become tech support as well as trying to prepare and teach their own classes. They have been so patient with all that has been asked of them, and many of the issues have been out with their control.

I also feel for colleagues across the country who perhaps don’t have the access to the technology that we have in Glasgow secondaries. That has certainly made a big difference for me this time around and has increased the engagement of our learners.

I am particularly in awe of the teachers who are parents and are trying to juggle teaching and parenting at the same time, and I take my hat off to all of the families doing their best to make remote learning work. Their feedback on what has been effective or what has been tricky has been beneficial as we plan for the next few weeks  even the odd email from a pupil who missed their live lesson as they slept in helps me to know why they weren’t there!

One big challenge has been thinking about how to teach drama, and the arts in general. For all of the talk about national offers and resources, there is nothing on these sites for dance or music and just one video for drama.

One of the reasons for this? Performing arts teachers were given so little support from national organisations from August to December for delivering their courses.

That said, I am extremely grateful to those who have given up their time and are sharing resources within my local authority. There is lots being done behind the scenes and between colleagues to try and make the best out of this. We have worked extremely hard to do the best that we can for our young people.

Unfortunately, there are too many negative voices who try to portray us as work-shy, and they have been getting too much attention. Teachers and schools don’t post all of their successes on social media  if we did, you wouldn’t see anything from anyone else because the successes are plentiful.

Has this week been hard? Absolutely. It’s very different to the first attempt at remote learning. There is a much higher expectation of teachers and pupils, both in the work produced and the engagement that takes place.

Do I want this to continue? I didn’t become a teacher to sit behind a desk all day. However, if this period brings the devastating death toll and infection rate down, then I fully support it.

Now, I wait with bated breath for information from the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) on how to proceed with my senior classes...

Kirsty Ferns is a faculty head of performing arts in Scotland. She tweets @mrs_ferns

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Kirsty Ferns

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