The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on how schools support pupils’ education and learning. Teachers continue to show remarkable ingenuity and commitment to the wellbeing and education of their pupils in their support for learning during the lockdown. Notwithstanding the determination of governments and administrations across the UK to readmit all pupils into school from the autumn of 2020, it is clear that schools are still expected to be able to make some provision for remote and blended learning if necessary. For example, schools may have to restrict access to pupils in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 or as part of local lockdown arrangements with little notice.
The use of remote and blended learning raises many issues for teachers and school leaders. For example, there is very limited evidence about the effective use of blended learning approaches in schools, meaning that teachers and leaders may need to experiment and use their professional judgement about appropriate strategies and approaches. Where technology is to be used, teachers and pupils will need to have access to that technology and the knowledge, skills and confidence to make appropriate use of the technology. Different pedagogies may need to be adopted in order to enable pupils of different ages or in different subjects to learn effectively. The use of blended learning also raises significant concerns for teachers’ professional development and workload.
This document focuses on twelve issues related to remote and blended learning. It outlines evidence about the features of effective practice and provides advice on approaches to remote and blended learning that are consistent with NASUWT policy. The document also identifies actions that the NASUWT believes governments, administrations and others should take in order to ensure that teachers and school leaders are supported to implement remote and blended learning effectively.
Factors that should guide decisions about the use of remote and blended learning
1. Quality teaching and learning:
Evidence finds that teacher quality is more important than how remote learning lessons are delivered.
Remote learning should incorporate the key elements of effective teaching. Effective teaching includes deep pedagogical content knowledge and quality instruction. It includes having a strong understanding of the way pupils think about content, scaffolding new content, questioning and clear explanations that build on the pupil’s prior learning, effective use of feedback, and using assessment to build future learning.
Evidence suggests that it is not important for remote learning to be delivered in real time. It can be delivered in another way, e.g. by video which pupils can access at a time that suits them. This might help to address access issues where pupils are sharing a computer or technology with other family members.
There is a need to ensure that the school’s approach is consistent with NASUWT advice on arrangements for remote teaching, learning and support.
Research should be commissioned to examine how remote and blended learning is being implemented in schools and settings. This should seek to establish the key elements of effective practice, and the barriers to effective practice, including barriers related to access and to implementation. It should seek to identify examples of effective practices and explain why these are effective. It should examine practices for different ages and phases of education (including primary, secondary, special, and post-16). It should also make recommendations to governments, local authorities, employers and schools about what they should do to support effective practice. Particular attention should be paid to the role of government, national and local infrastructures, and to the policies and resources needed to implement and sustain effective practice.
2. Connections to the school curriculum
There should be clear links between the content of remote learning activities and the wider school curriculum. Remote learning should be an integral part of the planned school curriculum. This is important if remote learning is to build on pupils’ prior learning and teachers are to address gaps in pupils’ knowledge and understanding through face-to-face teaching or remote teaching.
Remote learning may not be suitable to support some areas of the school curriculum, for example, it may not be able to support pupils’ social and emotional development. These areas of learning may need to be prioritised and picked up through face-to-face learning in school. However, schools will need to pay particular attention to how they support the social development and emotional wellbeing of pupils who are shielding and cannot attend school.
Governments/administrations should review national curricula to ensure that they recognise the centrality of the cognitive, emotional, cultural, creative, ethical and social dimensions of children’s learning and the competencies needed to support remote learning (e.g. working independently). Governments should also ensure that every child has access to a broad and balanced curriculum that addresses these dimensions. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this should include providing guidance on how the various dimensions of the curriculum can be addressed through blended learning, and on how these dimensions should be addressed when pupils are not able to attend school, e.g. because they are shielding or because of local lockdowns.
Governments/administrations should monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the school curriculum. Particular attention should be paid to the focus of the curriculum offer and whether the emphasis is on academic catch-up or whether there is a balance between meeting pupils’ social and emotional needs and academic study. There will be a need to disaggregate findings to see whether there are differences for pupils from different groups, of different ages, and in different phases of education, and monitoring should seek to identify whether particular subjects or curriculum areas are impacted.
Governments and administrations will need to ensure that approaches to addressing the disruption to the qualifications system and pupils’ work towards these qualifications support high quality teaching and learning. In particular, arrangements for awarding should support teachers and school leaders in providing broad, balanced, relevant and engaging learning experiences. They will also need to ensure that examinations and arrangements for the awarding of qualifications in 2021 take account of disruption to pupils’ learning.
3. Equality, equity and inclusion
Evidence reveals that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely than their peers to face barriers to remote learning because they do not have access to technology. Schools will need to ensure that all pupils have access to technology if they are expected to participate in remote learning online. Schools might consider placing lessons online so that they can be accessed at times that suit the pupil (e.g. if the pupil shares technology with other family members) rather than expecting pupils to participate in live lessons.
Schools might adopt approaches to remote learning that do not require technology or internet access (e.g. workbooks). It will be vital to ensure that the approach to remote learning that is chosen is appropriate and that all learners receive high quality teaching and learning.
Schools must comply with equalities legislation. It is vital that all pupils can access learning and schools may need to remove barriers to participation and/or provide additional targeted support to particular pupils or groups of pupils. Schools should undertake equality impact assessments to identify issues and needs and take action to address those issues and needs. Schools should establish whether particular pupils are facing barriers to accessing remote learning and/or need additional or specialist support in order to access that learning.
Schools should undertake equity audits to identify gaps in pupils’ learning outcomes. Evidence suggests that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been less engaged in remote learning during the lockdown. Evidence also indicates that there have been particular challenges engaging and supporting pupils with SEND. Schools should consider what additional and/or targeted support will be needed to enable those pupils to catch up. For example, pupils who have been unable to participate in remote learning might be prioritised for face-to-face teaching.
Pupils should not be prevented from accessing remote learning because of the way in which it is delivered. For instance, steps may need to be taken to ensure that pupils with hearing impairments can access the learning, e.g. it may be appropriate to use subtitles and/or ensure that the pupil can see the teacher’s face when they are speaking.
Some pupils may not be able to attend school. School will need to ensure that those pupils can access learning remotely. Where a blended learning approach is being used to educate most pupils, the school may need to provide additional individual support to pupils who cannot attend school.
Various reports stress the importance of focusing on pupils’ social and emotional wellbeing as part of the wider reopening of schools. Schools will need to ensure that they are aware of pupils’ social and emotional needs and that all pupils can access support. Particular attention will need to be paid to how the school supports pupils who need to remain at home.
Governments/administrations should provide advice to schools on conducting equity audits and equality impact assessments in light of COVID-19. This advice should address equality and equity issues that relate to remote and blended learning.
Governments/administrations should provide additional resources to schools, including employing additional specialist teachers and support staff, to enable schools to provide targeted support to pupils to reduce gaps in learning and address wider disadvantages.
Governments/administrations should also ensure links to wider systems of support to target resources and support to vulnerable pupils and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. In England, activities to support implementation of the Mental Health Green Paper should be stepped up so that, for example, Mental Health Support Teams are operating in all areas.
4. Access to and use of technology
Many studies find that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to access computers and the technology needed to participate in remote learning. There is a need to ensure that all pupils have access to the technology they need to participate in remote learning. Steps may also need to be taken to ensure that pupils can access learning flexibly. For example, enabling lessons to be accessed at a time that suits the pupil may address barriers arising from equipment needing to be shared with siblings or other family members.
Schools will need to consider whether there are other potential barriers that prevent pupils from participating effectively in remote learning, e.g. having a quiet space at home to undertake study. If pupils cannot study at home then it may be appropriate to prioritise those pupils for face-to-face learning, paying appropriate regard to public health considerations and the need to ensure that settings operate in ways that are safe for pupils and staff.
Schools may need to consider whether remote learning might best be delivered by means other than technology and/or internet access.
Schools need to ensure that teachers and support staff who participate in remote learning have access to the technology. If teachers are working from home to support remote learning, it will be particularly important to ensure that they are provided with the necessary equipment in their home.
Schools should ensure that guidance and support is in place so that teachers and pupils use the technology safely and effectively. Teachers and school leaders should refer to the NASUWT’s guidance Arrangements for remote teaching, learning and support.
Schools should monitor and evaluate the impact of blended and remote learning on groups of pupils, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, pupils who share a protected characteristic under equalities legislation, and pupils who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). It will be important to use the findings of monitoring and evaluations to identify and remove barriers to participation and to ensure equality of outcomes. This might include providing targeted support to particular groups of pupils, making changes to how provision is organised, and identifying and sharing evidence about how technology supports particular pupils or groups of pupils.
Governments and administrations must ensure that every child has access to the technology needed to engage in remote and blended learning. There is also a need to ensure that every household has fast internet access. Governments should consider inviting technology companies and suppliers to work with them and invest in children’s learning at home and at school.
5. Peer-to-peer pupil interaction and collaboration
Evidence indicates that remote learning that provides opportunities for pupils to interact with each other can help to motivate pupils and improve their learning outcomes. Teachers should consider strategies using strategies that will encourage and support pupils to collaborate.
It will be important to monitor whether pupils are collaborating and whether they are doing so appropriately and effectively. Some pupils have reported that their peers may be reluctant to collaborate and support each other if they are competing e.g. for grades. Teachers will also need to monitor peer-to-peer interactions to ensure that pupils are not being bullied or harassed.
Governments/administrations should collect and disseminate evidence about peer-to-peer pupil collaboration as part of remote learning. This should include establishing what works and the contexts for effective practice. It should also include identifying potential barriers to collaboration and the steps that can be taken to mitigate risks.
6. Supporting pupils to work independently
While remote and blended learning can improve learning outcomes, some pupils may struggle to work independently. Studies highlight the need for schools to ensure that pupils are supported to work independently.
Self-motivation is identified as an important factor in enabling pupils to work independently. One study makes a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and suggests that extrinsic motivation can be increased by making a task compulsory or it contributing to a final grade. Evidence suggests that it is important to adopt strategies and approaches to learning that encourage pupils to become independent. For instance, pupils might be encouraged to reflect on their work. Evidence points to the benefits of learning that focuses on metacognition and self-regulation. Studies indicate that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from explicit support to help them to work independently e.g. providing checklists and daily plans.
Schools may need to identify ways to support particular groups of pupils to work independently. For instance, some pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) may need additional specialist support to enable them to work independently.
Governments/administrations should commission research into remote learning that examines pupil characteristics with a view to establishing whether remote learning is appropriate for pupils of different ages and abilities, the competencies that pupils of different ages and abilities need to engage effectively in remote learning, and the strategies that can be used to help pupils develop those competencies, in particular, competencies that support independent learning. Governments/administrations should publish practical guidance for teachers and schools about how to develop independent learning competencies.
7. Adapting remote learning to suit the task and the context
There is some evidence which indicates that different approaches to remote learning suit particular tasks and contexts. This finds that different approaches have different strengths and weaknesses. It finds that games for learning may have a high impact on vocabulary learning in foreign languages and technology to support retrieval practice and self-quizzing can help pupils to retain key ideas and knowledge. However, this is not a replacement for other forms of assessment.
There is limited evidence about the use and impact of technology in different subjects and for different age groups, particularly school-age pupils. Therefore, teachers and school leaders may need to experiment and use their professional judgement to determine the strategies and approaches to remote learning that are likely to be most effective. It will be important to monitor and evaluate the impact and effectiveness of approaches and to share knowledge and practices across the school and beyond.
Governments/administrations should collect evidence about the use of different approaches to remote and blended learning with a view to establishing the contexts in which particular approaches might be effective. Governments/administrations should support teachers and school leaders by disseminating evidence about the approaches that seem to be suited to different groups of pupils (including different age groups) and subjects.
Governments/administrations should support teachers and school leaders to share experiences and practices about effective approaches to remote and blended learning by supporting and resourcing local and national networks of practice.
8. Workload and wellbeing
Remote learning and blended learning must be implemented in ways that are manageable and sustainable. Blended learning has the potential to increase teachers’ workload significantly, for example, if teachers are expected to plan, prepare and teach lessons face to face as well as plan prepare and teach remotely. Evidence indicates that schools will need more staff as they open to more pupils.
Schools should undertake a workload impact assessment of proposals and take action to address potential workload burdens.
Schools should engage the NASUWT and workforce unions in planning how education will be provided as the school opens to more pupils. This should include discussions and decisions about the use of blended learning.
It may be appropriate to use teachers who are working from home to teach remote lessons. If teachers working from home are used in this way, the school will need to ensure that they take account of the time that will be needed for the teacher to collaborate with teachers providing face-to-face teaching to pupils.
Remote learning is unchartered territory for many teachers and there is limited evidence about effective remote and blended learning practice in schools. This has implications for the time that teachers will need to plan and prepare online lessons and resources. Schools should ensure that teachers have sufficient time to plan and prepare online lessons.
Evidence highlights the importance of ensuring that teachers are trained and supported to provide online lessons. Again, schools will need to ensure that teachers have appropriate time to undertake training and professional development.
Schools should consider recruiting additional teachers to provide additional capacity to support blended learning.
Governments/administrations should provide additional funding to enable schools to employ additional staff to support pupils following the COVID-19 pandemic. This should allow schools to employ additional teachers and support staff to support blended learning and provide high quality, targeted teaching and support to disadvantaged pupils and close gaps in leaning outcomes.
9. Leadership and management of remote and blended learning
Feedback suggests that some schools did not coordinate remote learning during the COVID-19 lockdown and this caused confusion as teachers were using different platforms for remote learning. Also, the lack of a coordinated approach may place competing and unrealistic demands on pupils and teachers.
It is vital that the school’s approach to blended and remote learning is led and managed so that practice is consistent. Remote learning should cohere with the broader school curriculum; teachers’ training and development needs should be identified and met; effective pedagogies, strategies and practices should be identified and shared across the school; and issues relating to workload and resourcing should be identified and addressed.
School leaders should work with middle leaders, the NASUWT and other workforce unions to map out expectations for blended learning that are realistic and appropriate.
Leaders will need to ensure that remote learning practice complies with health safety and safeguarding requirements (see the NASUWT’s advice: Arrangements for remote teaching, learning and support; ) as well as broader advice on the health and safety of teachers: and to wider school policies such as those relating to pupil behaviour (see the NASUWT’s advice )
Leaders who coordinate and manage remote learning and blended learning will need to ensure that they keep up to date with the latest evidence about effective practice as this is an area where evidence is emerging.
Leaders will need to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of remote and blended learning. This should include evaluating its impact and effectiveness for different groups and ages of pupils. Particular attention should be paid to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with SEND. It should also include monitoring teachers’ workload and development needs.
Governments/administrations should provide guidance to schools on leadership of blended learning and its relationship to the wider school curriculum.
10. Continuing Professional Development (CPD), training and support
Evidence reveals that in many countries teachers have limited familiarity with integrating technology into instructional practice. The OECD says that this highlights the need for teachers to receive training in remote learning, and the need to create opportunities for teachers to share knowledge, including new knowledge as remote and blended learning practices are developed. Other studies stress that the success of blended learning programmes depends on comprehensive teacher training for all teachers involved in using blended learning, and ongoing evaluation of the approach. They also find that few teachers have received sufficient technological support or professional development.
Schools should ensure that all teachers receive training and professional development on the use of blended learning. This should include training on how to use the technology, how the technology can support teaching and learning, and the pedagogical approaches that support the use of that technology and the learning context. Schools should also ensure that teachers are able to access ongoing professional learning, including opportunities to share experiences and practices with other teachers within and beyond the school.
Schools should note that evidence finds that the features of effective professional development include ensuring that CPD:
- is carefully designed to focus on pupil outcomes;
- is prolonged rather than a short course;
- is relevant to teachers’ day-to-day experiences and aspirations for pupils;
- is underpinned by subject knowledge, subject-specific pedagogy, clarity around learner progression; and content and activity that helps teachers to understand how pupils learn; and
- includes explicit consideration of how the CPD translates into practice in the classroom, with teachers having opportunities to experiment in order to implement what they have learned.
Evidence also finds that managing and organising CPD effectively includes establishing priorities, resolving competing demands, sourcing appropriate expertise and ensuring appropriate opportunities are in place.
Schools should ensure that CPD to support remote and blended learning reflects the features of effective practice described above.
Governments and administrations should invest in a national programme of CPD to develop teachers’ and school leaders’ knowledge, skills and understanding of remote and blended learning and the features of effective practice. Training/CPD should be free and steps taken to ensure that all teachers and leaders are able to access the training/CPD within the working day.
Governments/administrations should monitor teachers’ training and professional learning needs in respect of remote and blended learning. They should fund additional training where issues and needs are identified and ensure that teachers are supported to engage in professional learning.
Governments/administrations should ensure that remote and blended learning are addressed in initial teacher education and induction programmes for new teachers.
11. Collaboration and sharing practice
Evidence indicates that most teachers have little or no experience of remote and blended teaching and learning. Studies highlight the importance of enabling teachers to collaborate and of providing opportunities for teachers to share practice. Studies also highlight the importance of collaborative practice in supporting innovative learning environments.
Schools should ensure that teachers are given the time to collaborate and share ideas, experiences and practices with other teachers in the school. Schools should also work with other schools and networks to enable teachers and school leaders to collaborate and share experiences about effective practice.
Governments/administrations should fund the development and operation of local and national networks to support teachers to collaborate and share practice and experiences about remote and blended learning
12. Workforce engagement in discussions and decisions about remote and blended learning
Schools should consult the NASUWT about remote and blended learning and ensure that remote and blended learning policies are approved by the Union
The NASUWT can help the school to identify barriers to blended and remote learning. It can also help the school to establish how remote and blended learning might be implemented effectively, including ensuring that remote and blended learning policies and practices are consistent with NASUWT advice. The NASUWT may also be able to help the school to identify and disseminate effective remote and blended learning practice.
Governments/administrations should commit to social partnership and ensure that the NASUWT and workforce unions are fully engaged in planning and decision-making about COVID-19 and remote and blended learning.
Governments/administrations should issue guidance to schools, local authorities and employers, making it clear that they should engage the NASUWT and workforce unions in planning and decision-making, and proposals should be agreed with the NASUWT and other workforce unions before they are implemented.
The following evidence and resources may be useful to teachers and school leaders. While online learning resources are organised under country headings to indicate the primary target audience, teachers and leaders may find resources from other UK administrations helpful.
BBC Bitesize – online lessons covering nursery/reception through to 16 in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales: www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize
Education Endowment Foundation: Evidence about effective approaches to remote learning: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/covid-19-resources/best-evidence-on-supporting-students-to-learn-remotely
European Commission, School Education Gateway: European Commission (June 2020), Blended Learning in School Education: guidelines for the start of the academic year 2020/21. Provides guidance for policy makers, school leaders and teachers on blended learning: www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/resources/publications/blended-learning-guidelines.htm
Oak Academy – online lessons covering reception through to Y10 (KS3) and specialist in England: www.thenational.academy
Department for Education (DfE) list of online learning resources for English, maths, science, PE, wellbeing and SEND: www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources
Education Scotland’s National Improvement Hub, providing advice and support for teachers and leaders on online learning, including guidance on teaching online and access to curriculum resources that link to Curriculum for Excellence. These cover both curriculum subjects and broad themes (e.g. creativity): https://education.gov.scot/improvement/learning-resources/supporting-online-learning-links-for-practitioners
Welsh Government distance learning support for teachers and senior leaders, including guidance on approaches to distance learning and curriculum resources from the foundation phase through to post-16: https://hwb.gov.wales/distance-learning