At 5pm today, bids will close to tutoring companies all over the United Kingdom, wanting a share of the Government’s £76million ‘pot’ being made available to tutor disadvantaged children whose education has been stifled by coronavirus and the lockdown.
Managed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), an educational research charity, the process has been a nightmare for aspiring applicants, but it has also thrown up interesting perspectives on online tutoring. In one section of the 28-page application process, applicants had to outline how they would manage working with schools and students online, and what special features would allow tutoring to continue if schools had to shut again through local – or the unthinkable – national lockdowns in the future.
How could lessons continue? How could quality be assured? How could assessments be done and data collected? And most tellingly, what special features in proposed online provision would ensure teaching excellence?
ASIS Education, in partnership with X20 Media, submitted a response to work with over 3000 London-based students, teaching from a new X20 Virtual Learning Environment being built to the West of the City. For us, answering the questions was relatively straight forward.
Our VLE replicates the normal classroom like no other system. Even if our tutors couldn’t come into the ‘studio’, they can still teach through our ‘Virtual Presenter’ function; should the horror of lockdown happen again, students and teachers could work virtually without pause to the programme.
Quality would continue to be assured by virtue of the ‘analytics function’ in the back end of the system. Measuring participation levels, engagement and, of course, attendance, delivering data quickly and simply at the end of each session and each week of sessions, would allow EEF to validate that their money would continue to be well spent under lockdown conditions. Other groups wanting their share of the Government money pot, and using more basic systems like Zoom and Teams, would find it difficult to compete – at least, that’s the case we have put to the decision makers.
Ours is a unique and distinctive application – if those deciding have half a sense of adventure about them, they will jump at it. We will be using our very special ‘group’ facility which allows more than one teacher to be in the classroom at the same time, enter and leave small groups as the class requires, providing very individual attention whilst at the same time creating the learning energy needed to help children catch up. And we can work with a lot of children over the course of an academic year, at very low cost.
Best of all, working in our VLE – pioneered by Harvard Business School – will give these youngsters an educational experience that they could probably never have dreamed of. It is rather like asking them to experience Cambridge or Oxford, when what they are used to is something less than the best.
Elsewhere, applicants had to say how they would overcome the tendency of many youngsters working online to drift off somewhere else on the internet, instead of staying with their online lesson. Again, we found that easy to answer. Our system quickly identifies any youngster attracted by another website – even an educational one! – and alerts the tutor to the fact. There’s no embarrassment to the student as only the presenter can see the visual cue showing “lack of attention”, and can use good teaching practice to bring the ‘drifter’ back to the lesson.
Our case to the EEF is that teaching in a VLE like this is a world apart from being stuck behind a glass screen, with students and teachers reduced to appearing in 2-inch glass squares. Of course, we hope we have proven the point.
Whatever happens with the Government programme, called the National Tutoring Programme, the ASIS Education plan is to reach out and to help as many of the country’s disadvantaged children as is possible through our normal daily work. Just because it’s the best system around, experience of it should not just be the prerogative of the wealthy.
We will keep you posted on how things pan out.