Earlier this year, SAP UK launched a purpose led partnership with the Co-op Academies Trust; a transformative collaboration fuelled by the shared mission to enhance the digital skills and employability of students across the UK.
Initially, the focus of the partnership is to empower students in Co-op Academy schools by equipping them with digital skills, inspiring confidence and highlighting future career opportunities.
Existing partner of both SAP UK and the Co-op Academies Trust, Apps for Good, will deliver important digital skills by hosting ‘Machine Learning in a Day’ and ‘App Design In A Day’ courses in Co-Op Academy schools. SAP UK will also host a series of presentations and workshops, showcasing the opportunities for young people in the technology industry.
With government guidelines and Covid-19 restrictions, the partnership has also explored additional avenues by which SAP UK and the Co-op Academies Trust can accelerate their shared mission.
We sat down with Alison Mander, Head Teacher at Co-op Academy Grange in Bradford, to explore how her school has been affected by the global pandemic and how the partnership between SAP UK and the Co-op Academies Trust has had a direct impact on her students.
The Co-Op Academy Grange is the largest school in the Co-Op Academies Trust and serves one of the most deprived areas in Great Britain. They have been able to stay open throughout lockdown for a very small number of children, and as of June 15th they opened to Year 10s.
Alison, thank you so much for taking them time to speak with us. We’re thrilled to hear you’ve managed to stay open throughout this crisis and want to thank and congratulate you, on all your hard work throughout this period.
Let’s start off by discussing the challenges you’re facing due to Covid-19?
The first challenge is staying on contact with our pupils. The overwhelming majority of parents have made the decision to keep their children at home. So, out of 1600 children there are only about 12 children that come in each day. Therefore, we are working remotely with everyone else.
Logistically, this is very challenging. Weekly contact needs to be maintained with every child, which is done by phone, or if possible, by email. In many cases this is not possible, so we’ve been making a large number of home visits to stay in contact with all of our students.
As you can see, connectivity and access to the internet has been challenging. Initially we relied on the postal service, posting work out to children…but when there are 1500 students, this is quite a task.
We soon realised we needed to understand who had access and or/connectivity to the internet in order distribute content more easily. Many of our students don’t have access to the internet or a phone, or they’re sharing devices which is not conducive to proper work.
Moreover, we anticipate that for the next school year, much of our teaching will need to be remote – and pending further guidance from the government – we see a blended approach going forward.
This has meant we have had to make a concerted effort to supply our students with a device so that they can work effectively over the Internet. Approximately 350 families have been provided with devices, which is roughly 25% of students.
However, this is only the beginning of the solution. We now need to upskill staff and students in how to maximise the technology we have. In the virtual staff room the joke is: ‘we’ve got a porche but we’re still riding it like a bike’.
Due to our pre-existing relationship with the Co-op Academies Trust, SAP was able to donate £10,000 to help support the Academies throughout the upheaval Covid-19 has created. How was that money helped you?
The money that SAP donated went to students identified as high priority. Namely, Year 10 students -who next year will be taking their external exams – who don’t have access to the internet. With this money we were able to equip these students with with Chromebooks and dongles.
Even better, we were able to purchase these devices very quickly, and once they had arrived at school we were able to get them to student within a day.
Previously, the students had been waiting for devices from the government, which we’ve still not had any update on (at the time of writing 15/6/20), and so it was a huge relief to get these students connected so rapidly.
Statistics are suggesting that there are 700,000 children across the UK unable to complete any schoolwork because of a lack of internet at home. How did you establish the specific needs of your pupils?
We started by attempting to make contact with every student and their family, which was a challenge. With lots of our pupils unreachable, much of our work was done on foot. We had staff members go and visit pupils’ homes in order to understand their circumstances regarding connectivity and access.
I’m confident now that we’ve started to plug the gaps where children don’t have access, or only have limited access. For example, we often found that whilst there was a device in the household, it was being shared between three or four children, so despite having access they couldn’t work effectively.
Once we had understood the demand for devices, we were able to utilise the donation, purchasing equipment and distributing it accordingly.
Ideally, I would like to be able to provide every student with a Chromebook regardless of their situation, so that everyone was on a level playing field.
It’s very obvious from what you’ve said that the education system and schools themselves have been hugely disrupted by the pandemic. What would you say are the key learnings from this period?
Firstly, I think everyone has realised that teaching is more difficult than they thought! I hope this recognition might reinvigorate people’s interest into teaching as a profession, as the sector is experiencing a real lack of supply.
We’ve also realised that despite all the technology we have, there is no substitute for face-to-face teaching and learning.
The way we’re moving forward at the moment has pushed us to adopt Google Classroom quicker than we would have done, and in the years to come I think our Google Classroom experience will supplement what happens in school. But I would stress that this will be a blended approach between face-to-face and virtual.
Staff have had mixed responses to online teaching. Some are very familiar and happy to use Google Classroom, and other less so hence we’ve got ongoing professional development to explore. This will be a training and development opportunity for students too, as they are learning and discovering new skills with technology, such as how to compose and send an email in a professional setting.
Alongside this, there are personal skills that students are being forced to accelerate: how to work independently and manage one’s time for example, as working at home is very different to the structure that a school day provides.
So, we have the task of upskilling staff and students on many fronts while also providing engaging content that facilitates this. More importantly, we also recognise the need for effective feedback; there has to be a relationship in place for remote working to be successful.
As you mentioned, the school day is hard to replicate and a studies are showing that one fifth of pupils – the equivalent of two million children – did no schoolwork at home, or less than an hour a day. How are you dealing with the remote aspect of learning, has it affected your relationship with parents and guardians?
We’ve found two extremes: we’ve had parents who have said they can’t get their children to do any work, whereas some parents have been sitting with their children at the table for five to six hours a day doing school work.
It’s about finding that middle ground, and making parents aware that it’s about finding learning opportunities in everything you do, not just what school provides.
Thank you for taking the time to share these insights with us Alison, it’s been enlightening to hear your experiences. Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Personally, it’s be really heartening for me to be able to provide students with the capabilities to continue learning.
We’ve had students email from their phones, saying they’re finding it really hard to work, and asking for help. And we’ve been able to respond almost instantly, delivering them a Chromebook the next day. Within the space of two days, I have the same student emailing me again, from their new Chromebook, expressing their appreciation. It’s truly heartening to be able to provide for them during this time, so thank you again for SAP’s support.
Alison Mander, Principal, Co-operative Academy Grange, Bradford