This month, in our ongoing feature highlighting the work of members of the UK education suppliers’ trade body BESA, we learn about careers education platform provider CASCAID; and JI LI, Managing Director at PLUM INNOVATIONS, surveys the new education landscape.

Delivering careers education during the Covid-19 lockdown

When Covid-19 led to the sudden closure of UK schools, priorities focused on student welfare and the core academic curriculum. The role of technology in facilitating this cannot be underestimated and a shift to remote teaching and learning would have been vastly more complex without the myriad of ed tech solutions available today. This shift to remote learning and its success varied from school to school.

In many cases, focus was directed at areas of the curriculum considered ‘most important’, however, the experience of The Co-op Academy Walkden demonstrates how technology was able to effectively impact all areas of the learning journey – even those, like careers, that could have easily been side-lined. Josh Mangas, Assistant Principal with responsibility for participation and

engagement at the 11-16 non-selective school in Greater Manchester, has long been a believer in the potential for technology to digitally replicate classrooms. Therefore, the almost overnight shift to virtual teaching and learning didn’t faze him. His role encompasses overall responsibility for careers as well as IT communications, allowing him a relatively high level of autonomy, and so the decision to proceed with a new careers education platform (a decision made pre-Covid) was one he didn’t think twice about. He comments: “I am a dedicated champion of the power of technology in education and

have worked hard to ensure that our school embraces all relevant solutions. We had a gap in this respect when it came to careers education and Xello was the obvious solution to address this. “Careers education is so much more than a box-ticking exercise and by

taking a whole-school approach to its delivery, we quickly made the decision to proceed with embedding our new software in spite of the uncertain times we found ourselves in.” Mindful of the realities of the situation, Josh was aware that the shift to

home learning could lead to procrastination for some students and decided to take advantage of this. For years 7 through to 9, he simply encouraged them to ‘play around’ with the software and engage with different dream career options. For those in year 10 who’d missed out on work experience and those in year 11 for whom summer exams were cancelled, the interactive software allowed them to explore their own skills bases and discover the different pathways suited to those that could lead to eventual career areas. He continues: “In what some might consider a moment of madness, I decided it was

worth rolling the new software out across the whole school in one go. This was a decision based largely on securing student engagement and getting them used to what it could do at an otherwise uncertain time. “Importantly for students who require a purpose and assurance of

something’s importance, this approach has shown them that they can be in charge of their career journey.” The benefits have, however, spread beyond student engagement.

Allowing a relative amount of student freedom has provided Josh and the wider staff base with genuine insight into what piques student interest and, in doing so, now facilitates stronger links between careers education and the core curriculum. He concludes: “So much of the curriculum is fact-based with less attention to skills. By

engaging in interactive software of this kind, we’ve elevated the skills needed for certain career paths and, in doing so, supported teaching staff to place greater emphasis on these skills in the lessons and homework that they plan.” A shift to remote education wasn’t on anyone’s agenda at the start of

2020, but Josh and the team at The Co-op Academy Walkden have demonstrated the positive experiences that could be drawn from it and they’re already looking forward to how this experience will impact the in- school delivery of careers education moving forward.


Are we now in the age of post-apocalyptic or post-modern?

If you have watched Brad Pitt’s World War Z, you might recall the opening scene: a new kind of virus was discovered in the Far East, no vaccine could be found. Soon the virus spread across the globe, TV channels were broadcasting pandemic news in different languages 24/7. When I watched the movie back in 2013, who’d have thought one

day this kind of apocalyptic event was going to happen in real life? But here we are… without zombies obviously. Interestingly, back in February, I posted a tweet about Chinese

schools starting their new term virtually and how EdTech could be really helpful in difficult situations. At the time, WHO had not yet declared Covid-19 a pandemic, and what happened on the other side of the world seemed so far away from us. But only a month later, the DfE announced schools in England were to be closed due to the accelerating virus outbreak. Even though I have been working in the EdTech sector for years and

helping schools move towards to cloud based platforms, the announcement was still a big shock to me. This kind of situation had not happened before. Were teachers ready to teach over 90 per cent of their pupils online? Were admin staff ready to work remotely to communicate with parents and families? Was the technology and infrastructure ready to be deployed in a massive scale and in such a short notice? And so it panned out, much to the surprise (or not) to most people

outside of the education sector, teachers started to teach online, school assemblies were organised via Zoom or YouTube, and pupils did their PE by following Joe Wicks. Behind the scenes, there were weeks of preparations, days of

training and self-taught sessions on these new ways of teaching. Before the lockdown, our supported schools were already moved onto G Suite and were familiar with cloud tools available to them. However, I thought the difficult part was actually to get parents onboard with new way of learning and to use technology effectively from home. Both of our technicians and school staff worked very hard and collaboratively for the first few weeks, then we found things were running better and better. This once again proved not only how able and adaptable our teachers can be to harness new technology and methods effectively to meet educational needs, but also they can help and train parents to improve their use of technology. Nevertheless, not all parents were happy about remote learning.

According to research, almost half of parents were dissatisfied with their children’s learning since schools closed. According to the same research, many children were bored and lacked motivation during the lockdown. I can complete understand the frustration from parents’ point of

view: parents needed to work remotely from home too, facing the same struggle with technology, as well as keeping an eye on their children’s learning. It’s stressful and a super hard job, but isn’t that what teachers were doing every working day in schools before the lockdown? Schools are not only responsible for children’s knowledge and skills learning, but also for looking after their behavioural and emotional needs. I sincerely hope parents will now appreciate and understand teachers’ roles much better once their children are able to return to study in a proper classroom environment.

u September 2020

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