When the pandemic really took grip in March it was only a matter of time before education became a casualty of the virus. With schools and colleges closed, except to children of essential staff, parents took up the baton and colleges had to find ways to engage with students at home.
Tameside College certainly faced one of the biggest challenges in its history and we asked Principal Jackie Moores to tell us when she first became aware of how serious the impact of the virus would be on the college.
“When we started to see the impact in Wuhan, I think we all started to think, what if this comes to the UK? It did and I’m frankly amazed at how well our staff and learners rose to the immense challenges with a move to online learning, ensuring that education wasn’t a casualty of the virus and was able to continue”
So once the decision had been taken to close did you and your team already have any back up plans to support the students?
“We found ourselves in a very strong position in relation to a swift move to online learning. Around 18 months ago, Teresa Farran our Deputy Principal, led a wholesale staff development to ensure all our staff were able to use online platforms as an addition to face-to-face teaching, little did we know how important that would become. Therefore, most of our staff already had really strong skills in this area. Coming from that position, however, downplays the mammoth task of getting all staff and learners confident in using virtual platforms for learning and support. It has been a very steep learning curve for some (myself included!).
Obviously resources are important and the college has worked with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to supply computers to those students that didn’t have access at home.
“We were lucky to be selected by GMCA for a project to supply 38 laptops and Wi-Fi dongles to young people who are ‘digitally excluded’. Too many of our learners were struggling at home with no or poor broadband or shared or no access to a laptop. Some initially were attempting to learn online using their phones; not an ideal situation for learning and engaging with teachers and support staff. Additionally, the college has loaned all of its laptops out to students, funded further Wi-Fi dongles and purchased 400 new laptops. However, it is still not enough to ensure every student can access decent broadband and a device on which to work. Next year, digital exclusion will be a real issue for many learners, both school leavers and adults.
How have your staff been able to interact with students?
“Our teachers and progress tutors have used a couple of learning platforms to engage with learners and engagement levels have been very high. The technology is great, and we now have many, many expert staff across all areas of the college. Next year some of those staff will become digital coaches, supporting staff and learners with the use of this technology. The college has remained open throughout the pandemic and where necessary we have been able to invite small numbers of learners into college for pastoral support. Additionally, the local authority has funded online mental health support for every Tameside resident which has been very much appreciated by our students”.
What did you put in place to help students finish their term?
“The Government gave permission for schools and colleges to reopen for up to 25% of our learners (around 1000+). After careful consideration by our Board, we decided against wider reopening choosing instead to focus on around 100 learners each day from June 22nd. The students coming into college are those who cannot achieve their qualifications without face to face teaching or assessment, including apprentices. We are currently very busy inducting staff and learners who will be back in college and readying the buildings and sites for safe social distancing measures. Our students, who will take exams next year, are engaging very well online and so we decided to continue their studies online. The college has carried out a huge task to teacher assess over 34,000 individual qualifications and make a claim for these with over 20 different awarding bodies”.
Summer is usually a time to prepare for students and adult learners for the September term, how will Covid 19 impact your plans?
“All the college activity which usually happens in the summer term is still happening, albeit some is virtual. Students are being prepared for progression into work or university or onto a higher-level course next academic year. How we enrol new learners safely in August is also a current project. Our adult course guide will be out to all Tameside residents shortly and will also be on our website. We are busy carrying out around 800 telephone invitations for places at college next year and we guarantee a place for every school leaver at college. We have apprenticeship vacancies now on our website for immediate start and we are pleased to see employers are continuing to invest in apprentices. We continue to use the college website www.tameside.ac.uk & www.clarendon.ac.uk for key messages to students and parents. We will continue to follow all Government guidance and apply this to our 2020/21 planning, but we expect changes to guidance for colleges. We may be advised to teach some elements of learning online – we just don’t know yet”
Finally, what has the college learned from the experiences of the last four months?
“To misquote Tony Wilson – ‘This is (Greater) Manchester, we do things differently here’ this for me captures the spirit of GM, there has been tremendous team work and support across the City region. In every area, people have come together to support each other and find a way through in unparalleled times. I have been amazed at what we were all able to do, together. Whether that is supporting our key worker colleagues and our isolating friends, neighbours and families or making sure learners and apprentices at Tameside College and Clarendon Sixth are supported and able to achieve their qualifications, ready to progress to the next step in their career.”
About Tameside would like to thank Jackie for talking to us and congratulate all the team at the college for their hard work.