Rising demand for virtual schools will appeal to

many Comment by HUGH VINEY, Headmaster at Minerva’s Virtual Academy

This last year in education has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. Yet one thing the pandemic has done is to fast- track exposure and wider acceptance of digital learning, not just for pupils but for schools and teachers too. As education continues to shift more towards online platforms, so too does our reliance on the use of technology both inside and outside of the classroom. The potential for online schooling is vast and many top schools are already jumping on the bandwagon and are launching virtual arms to their offering. Parents who would never have considered online schooling before, are making the jump and the concept for this more personalised educational experience is fast gaining traction.

Online schools are freeing up teaching resource to focus more on mentoring and less on admin, they are improving efficiency and reducing paperwork, not to mention nurturing a new generation of self-reliant, resilient learners, all of whom have newfound space and freedom to learn at their own pace.

So how does an online school work in reality? Advances in technology mean the traditional format of home schooling is a thing of the past. In the case of my school, education is delivered daily via live, scheduled lessons in ‘virtual classrooms’, with a real subject teacher present. Pupils are able to complete tasks in their own time, obtain feedback and liaise

with teachers and peers using a cutting-edge virtual learning platform, as well as engage in interactive group sessions just as they would do in a traditional classroom.

Attending a virtual school doesn’t mean being alone or isolated. The culture, friendships, traditions and community spirit of a school have always been important for pupil progression and online schooling is evolving to incorporate these. From whole school virtual assemblies, to after school clubs, wellbeing sessions, in-person meet ups and school trips and events, there are a multitude of social opportunities available.

Performance and attainment can also be tracked effectively online so teachers benefit from monitoring how their pupils work online and are able to spot potential issues and provide the right support and guidance at the right time. Many sophisticated learning platforms will also ensure that a pupil cannot move onto the next topic or lesson, until they have completed the current task sufficiently and in line with the teacher’s requirements.

Virtual learning has also highlighted the reality that every child learns at a different pace. Some simply need more time to learn, while others need less time to grasp concepts, yet both have the ability to flourish and achieve the best outcomes. Digital learning allows for a more tailored approach to learning which reflects the individual’s strengths, abilities and learning style.

The entire GCSE syllabus across 11 different subjects can be studied without the physical need for a teacher to be present, providing there is an option to obtain support as and when it is needed – this is where teaching as a role will need to adapt in the future. Great teachers are perhaps more important than ever as we move towards more individualised learning, being open to adapting and to embracing new ways of teaching is a vital part of our professional future as schools and although there will inevitably be changes ahead, many of these will result in positive outcomes for pupils, teachers, parents and in the delivery of learning itself.

Social media: how to stop parents from misusing it

Comment by KALEY FORAN, Lead Content Editor at The Key

Over the past year, social media has not only provided schools with a quick and informal way of keeping parents in the loop, it’s also proved to be an effective way of uniting the school community. However, negative comments and behaviour from parents online can be damaging for schools and time- consuming to deal with. The best way to manage this is to proactively set expectations, and be clear on how you'll respond to such incidents. Here are some tips on how to do this, plus what you can do if an issue does arise.

Create an internet acceptable use agreement for parents Use this to set clear guidelines and expectations on how parents should use social media (or other communications forums) when they communicate with, or about, your school. Make sure your agreement covers parents' use of the school Facebook page, personal social media accounts and private groups or channels (such as class Facebook pages or WhatsApp groups). You can't require parents to sign an acceptable use agreement, but it

June 2021

can help you explain what kinds of behaviour you won't tolerate.

Include social media use in a parent code of conduct Some schools do this as well as, or instead of, having an acceptable use agreement. Parent codes of conduct aren't legally binding, but you can set out things such as how you expect parents to behave online and how the school will respond to inappropriate behaviour.

Publicise your policies so parents follow the right procedures Parents may turn to social media if they don't know how to raise a complaint or handle an incident appropriately, so it’s important to make parents aware of your procedures on things like complaints and behaviour. Make sure your policies are easy to find on your school website, and regularly remind parents about key policies in your newsletters or other updates.

Send letters to parents to address incidents of misuse Have a template letter which includes model text you can adapt to respond to common incidents. Use the letter to remind the parent of the expectations of them, the policy or procedure they should be following (if relevant) and why it's important they do this, and let them know who they should speak to if they want to discuss the incident further.

In the most serious cases, you may consider banning the parent or taking legal action as a last resort Hopefully, you'll be able to resolve any issues face to face with parents. If this proves unsuccessful, headteachers do have the power to ban a parent from the school site if they believe the parent poses a threat to staff or pupils. Taking legal action can be complex and expensive, but if you do decide that this is unavoidable, make sure to seek high-quality legal advice. 23

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