Breaking down the barriers between school and the world: a revolution in remote learning?

Has the pandemic provided an opportunity for us to re-think where, and how, learning takes place?

Strategic Content Creator, Big Education

When schools were closed for the vast majority of students in March, our understanding of the concept of school and education was changed. For good.

For most of modern history, school was a place where students learned in a structured and sequential manner guided by an expert teacher. It is this structured, sequenced learning in a curriculum that we call education. 

Since the late 1800s we have expected the state to provide an education for our children. The state used schools to provide this education. The pandemic, for a relatively short time, changed everything.

For the first time in history, the state was tasked with providing an education without schools. Almost all education had to be provided remotely. This was, of course, a huge challenge but it also provided an opportunity to rethink the role of schools in providing an education.

This excellent report by the IPPR in collaboration with Big Change sets out some of the many ways schools could adapt to the ‘new normal’. The report contains a brilliant section all about how we should rethink ‘where and how’ education takes place. 

We also facilitated a webinar exploring remote learning. This blog is my write-up of the event with links to blogs written by our excellent speakers.

‘The biggest fear I have is that nothing will change’

There is a danger that we can assume that things will change almost naturally as a result of a crisis. History tells us that this is not necessarily true – it requires leadership and vision. That is why at Big Education we set up the Learning from Lockdown site. We wanted to cut through some of the noise being created and curate thought-leadership to help guide any future changes. However, this by itself is not enough. There could be lots of great thinking, but no action and, because we have ‘skin in the game’ (most obviously through our Big Education schools) this is not good enough. 

As a result of this, we have been publishing and hosting a series of Playbooks and online webinar events. The Playbooks are a tool through which school leaders can work through the complexities of change management in their schools. They can be used, for example, in leadership team meetings to help steer the school to make positive changes. 

Our webinar events are a chance to build the community and offer support for school leaders across the country. They are a chance to hear from school leaders about what they are actually doing in their schools and provide an opportunity to pause, reflect and engage in dialogue with others going through the same issues.

Please check for details of all of our events and to download free resources.

‘The pandemic has completely changed where and how learning takes place’

Our most recent webinar was based around case-studies of remote learning. We heard from a variety of speakers who have all written (or are writing) blogs about what they are approaching remote education in their schools.

Kiran Mahil from Central Foundation Girls School started off the evening by exploring how we can utilise technology to provide an expansive education for all. You can read her blog here. Ed Coogan from School 21 then explored how we can ensure high quality teaching and learning in a remote environment, the different models each phase of the school has used, and some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ which are often hidden, but ensure the smooth running of the remote curriculum.

We then heard from Tiffany Ingram from Wapping High School who explored how her school has managed to ensure a rich pastoral and coaching experience for students through utilising digital technology. Harry Marson from School 21 talked about how they set up a broad elective curriculum using project pedagogy to deliver an education which went beyond the basics – it got students actively engaged in making their communities better and, importantly, allowed autonomy and time away from the screen.

Finally, we were lucky enough to hear Fiona Forbes bring a parent perspective of remote learning. Through setting up her organisation, Sept for Schools, to ensure a parental perspective in policy making, she was able to draw upon the views of thousands of parents. You can read her fascinating perspective here.

‘Learning from home one day a week?’

The final part of our webinar was dedicated to carrying out a SWOT analysis of remote learning. You can see this below.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • New ways to think about ‘time’
  • Can be more accessible for some 
  • Opened up channels of communication 
  • Students can shape their own learning – they can break in and out and do other activities to break up the day
  • Tailored learning more possible
  • Linking between schools
  • Parents gathering the language of learning – they can also watch online lessons
  • Students have felt more comfortable leading the conversation in their home environment 
  • Feel connected to the school
  • Feel more Motivated
  • Could be dull and distant 
  • Space for students to be coached is a confidential zone
  • How can remove learning be adapted to younger pupils in busy home environments
Opportunities Threats
  • Learning from home one day a week which is planned
  • Virtual learning for school refusers 
  • Group coaching – interconnectivity during lockdown.
  • Group coaching – reach to more students 
  • Promoting digital confidence
  • Peer coaching across bubbles 
  • Linking between schools
  • People  think it can be cheaper and easier to do stuff online –  it is not always the case.
  • Intellectual property  
  • Physical divide between coach and coaches – students may not feel as truly seen and heard
  • Without camera – loss of the non verbal communication
  • Doesn’t bridge the gap between rich and poor – strong agreement on this

We now want to collect your experiences of remote learning in the form of case-studies. Trisha McCartney has written an excellent one on ‘Zoom into the Room’ about how we can use technology to involve parents more in their child’s education. The more people share experiences such as this, the less likely it is that we will go back to the status quo when the pandemic era finally ends. Please contact me ( if you have an idea and want to discuss it further. Alternatively, click here to submit a blog. Please also get in touch if you would like to be part of a working group looking specifically at remote learning.

I look forward to hearing from you all and spreading the word about the amazing work you are doing in your schools!

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