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Weston College accelerates ‘Virtual College’ ethos to connect students and staff to minimise social isolation

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive, Weston College

#MyVirtualCollege – @WestonCollege is a UK #Microsoft Showcase College and the 9th largest College in the country, Dr Paul Phillips CBE has shown impressive leadership to switch over to ‘virtual’ teaching and learning all within seven days.

With over 30,000 learner enrolments and nearly 900 High Needs students, Dr Phillips (in consultation with leaders and governors) has mobilised a full digital strategy that has not only maximised Microsoft and other educational technologies, it has also been designed to put human connectivity at its core.

The College has built impressive digital capability in the last two years, with Dr Phillips having invested to create a strong digital technology team ranging from digital educators, digital developers and digital advocates who have successfully pioneered an inclusive digital learning culture through projects such as the Department of Education’s Flexible Learning Fund.

Dr Phillips explains:

For me, it was clear that the strategy was not just about creating online learning, it was to create a strategy that would not only bring an outstanding virtual classroom to our learners – it would also ensure that social isolation is minimised, that motivation is maximised, and that mental health support is embedded holistically

My staff have been tremendous, with all tutors now engaged with a ‘virtual classroom’ philosophy, using technology to increase rather than decrease their interaction with students. We have also developed an impressive online portfolio of courses, such as Digital Skills and Mental Health Wellbeing to upskill employees and the wider community at home, as we continue to get requests from employers looking to use this time to deliver a skills boost to their employees who are presently homeworking.

As well as witnessing teaching and support staff delivering virtual best practice in their subject areas, I have also seen amazing innovations e.g. delivering remote personalised 1:1 mental health support, live horticulture streamed into living rooms, whole groups of learners engaging in collaborative ‘Body and Mind’ physical and wellbeing activities as well as digital solutions to reducing social isolation – e.g. students and staff catching up in bespoke sessions such as “Tuesday Tea on Teams” and “Netflix Natters”.

I myself as a Principal am adapting to increase my digital connectivity to reduce staff isolation, with regular virtual cross college briefings planned to keep moral high and I would urge other principals headteachers and governors to do the same. I have also launched this week #myvirtualcollege to encourage staff to send me of snippets of their best practice, ideas and suggestions for the future – ensuring that creativity and ideas reach me directly to maximise recognition & motivation with a view to sharing best practice across the sector. My message is simple, encourage staff to digitally innovate to keep students engaged in education and their virtual community as a mechanism to reduce self-isolation and to improve mental health – success will come from a ground up approach!

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive, Weston College

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