The announcement on Friday by the First Minister that colleges and schools will continue with online learning for at least the next three weeks (until 29 January and possibly longer if the number of positive cases do not reduce) was disappointing. But it is unquestionably the right approach to take at the current time in helping to reduce the numbers of transmissions across our communities.
But of course this announcement hasn’t come as any surprise and, as a College, we have been preparing for this very situation throughout the first term.
The way we have done this is as follows:
Face to face delivery
Firstly to prioritise face to face delivery for all our full time students for the whole of the first term and in doing so, to run with each class being a separate bubble – and with separate A Levels taught on different days. As a direct result, less than 10% of our full time students have needed to self-isolate, with not one student having to self-isolate on more than one occasion.
Prioritisation of practical sessions
Secondly, College lecturers were asked to prioritise practical sessions in laboratories, workshops, salons, kitchens and other practical settings and, as such, in many courses there is now a need to catch up on theory which suits a model of online teaching.
Investment in digital
Thirdly, and with the support of Welsh Government, we have been able to make a significant investment in IT equipment. In this past term alone no fewer than 750 devices have already been loaned out to students, and we are currently waiting for another 400 to arrive which will then be distributed.
Technology to teach
And then fourthly, there has been significant investment in the skills development of our staff to be able to teach digitally. Pilot activities have been undertaken in all learning areas and there was a full inset week for staff prior to Christmas. All learning areas now have individual digital mentors – staff with strong IT skills who have time set aside to be able to advise and support their colleagues.
So with all of this now in place, we are confident that there will be a smooth transition over to online teaching for the coming weeks.
Students will follow their timetables, which will include tutorials, and then on top of this we will have an increased focus on student wellbeing and the development of employability skills.
We are also investing in recruiting additional pastoral coaches to support learners who are experiencing challenges and those who we have identified as requiring additional academic support. And as the position regarding assessments becomes clearer, we will also look to build any new requirements into all of the programmes as quickly and as smoothly as we can.
We will also look to maintain close contact with our vulnerable students – through the work of our student support officers – and as soon as we are able to, we will focus on bringing our vocational students back into College to complete any outstanding practical work and assessments.
I fully understand this is an unsettling time for everyone, but I can assure you that as a College, we are confident that we are best placed to get you the results your hard work and resilience deserves.
Mark Jones, Principal