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14 Schools

Age Range

Rising to the Covid challenge for disadvantaged learners

School closures during the first national lockdown in England created mass disruption for teachers and students throughout spring and summer term 2020. With little time to prepare and with current online provision often only a small part of their existing approach, schools delved into providing a quality remote learning experience to their entire student body. The most disadvantaged students, with less support at home and often no access to online learning, were disproportionately affected and risked being left behind. Many educators were looking for ideas, content and support to help them create powerful online learning experiences that would reach and engage every student. In response to these challenges, the pilot was developed by Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust and edtech leaders GLUU with support from NESTA, to help meet the specific learning needs of disadvantaged Year 10 students in the West Midlands. The remote curriculum of Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust was developed into a unique content platform, working with product development specialists, GLUU, and enlisting resources from the Trauma Recovery Network to meet students increasing mental health needs.

The pilot product offered an online learning environment covering the three core components of school – curriculum, enrichment and pastoral support.
8-weeks’ worth of themed curriculum content was produced by a team of expert authors, including 4 live and 2 recorded lessons per theme, a variety of quality assured downloadable resources, and summative assessment in the form of student quizzes. For enrichment, virtual field trips linked to career guidance created real world connections, crucial for engagement
and learner motivation. Vital pastoral support was provided in the form of Tools for Coping, the complementary wellbeing programme that helps student’s spot signs they are struggling and directs them to seek help from a virtual Head of Year.


The platform launched on 4th July 2020 and ran for the summer holidays. During the pilot period 1843 students from 14 academies and 1special school registered, with 780 students joining in week 1. 5977 site accesses and 398 quiz responses were recorded, with all 8 weekly themes being accessed by students from every participating school. By the end of the pilot the wait list to join exceeded 4000 students. Daily live lessons led by 20 teachers were streamed in English, Science, Design, Physical Education, History, Geography and Drama with over 300 hours of recorded lessons posted, totalling 30 hours of online learning available weekly. In addition, over 1,000 hours of free therapy support were made available via Tools for Coping. The participating schools, all from the Dudley, Sandwell and Birmingham Local Authorities, serve areas of deprivation and are in the upper quartile for Pupil Premium numbers.


Evaluation of the pilot, by researchers Whole Education, spoke to those involved in development and participating teachers and students and found that initial efforts focused on securing hardware for students, mirroring accessibility problems being felt by disadvantaged students across the country.
Schools’ concerns around data sharing created further barriers to entry and communicating with disengaged families was recognised as an ongoing problem which also affects the most vulnerable students disproportionately.
Once these things were overcome, the rapid rise in the number of students brought demand for pastoral support to the fore and a group of virtual Heads of Year were added to provide student support throughout the pilot.
With increased user numbers, a key challenge will be keeping up with demand for new quality content, content for a wider age range of students and being able to manage support on a larger scale


The findings suggest that the platform offers great potential, not only for remote learning, but for offering a flexible curriculum more widely – teachers and students alike relished the freedom that the focus on engagement and the thematic approach gave them to explore real world connections and bring curriculum content to life in new ways. To balance this, and meet the needs of the more traditional subject-focused approach, Hodder Education plan to add their popular curriculum content into future iterations including Read in to Writing and Switched On Science. The platform also has potential to offer a powerful professional development tool, enabling teachers to access, review and build from other teachers’ lessons and watch lessons outside their own curriculum area to inspire new ideas. Being able to give students access to mental health support will also be particularly valued by teachers, with 74% of respondents to a recent survey by Mental health charity YoungMinds agreeing that schools being closed to most students over the period of lockdown has had a negative impact on the mental health of young people. Participating students also highlighted the importance of receiving effective feedback, shown in numerous studies to play a vital part in learning, and this will need to remain a key part of the offering. The platform has the potential to provide a high-quality remote learning experience that can meet not only the educational but also the wellbeing needs of disadvantaged learners throughout the UK is a collaboration between Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust, Hodder Education Group, What on Earth Publishing and Gluu, delivering a flexible online learning experience for pupils, parents and teachers. Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust brings curriculum design, assessment management and online learning (including active home learning) supported with content and platform services from the Hodder Education Group and additional content including family learning from What on Earth Publishing, connected by GLUU, who shape Edtech best practice into a solution that can be evidenced and shared

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