Remote learning: Ofsted shares tips for improving pupil engagement and motivation

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ofsted has shared some emerging approaches and strategies to boost pupil engagement and motivation during remote education, after identifying this as one of the key barriers to learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

New research from Ofsted finds that while the digital divide is a concern for 11 per cent of parents, 40 per cent are worried about their child’s focus and 36 per cent are concerned about their motivation, during remote education.

Furthermore, as many as two-third of parents of SEND students say they are worried about their child’s disengagement with remote learning.

The issue features strongly in an in-depth study into remote education published by Ofsted. The inspectorate has now signaled its intention to focus on effective strategies to boost pupil engagement during its spring term monitoring visits to schools, which began again this week.

Overall, the Ofsted study praises the efforts of schools in mitigating children’s learning loss during the pandemic, but has warned that “keeping pupils motivated remains a challenge”.

It echoes data from the Office of National Statistics, which found recently that while 52 per cent of parents said that a child in their household was struggling to continue their education while at home, only one in 10 identified a lack of devices as the reason; 77 per cent identified a lack of motivation as the main concern.

The concern is echoed by school leaders in the report, with Ofsted pointing out that many schools are now focused on increasing pupil engagement, including finding better ways for pupils and teachers to interact, such as via technology that allows on-going dialogue and chat functions.

Other approaches included creating and using online break-out rooms during remote learning, or secure messaging boards or apps.

Creating a sense of “stability and community” was also seen as key in the fight to boost pupil engagement and motivation.

The report adds: “A commonly cited policy was to directly contact pupils’ parents when pupil motivation appeared to be lacking. A strength of the more effective platforms was that they not only provided a more accurate picture of engagement, for example by showing data on active hours or tracking pupils’ activity within the application, but they then linked this back to assessment that tracked pupils’ progression through the curriculum.”

Schools’ approaches to adapting learning to the online environment have included, according to the report:

  • A closer focus on verbal explanations and exposition and presenting concepts in ‘bitesize’ segments, so that pupils could concentrate for short bursts of time.
  • Shortening the length of lessons to aid pupils’ concentration spans and to reduce screen time.
  • Using a variety of different ways of presenting information.
  • Ensuring time for pupils to practise what they have learned, for example through independent work or pupil discussion.
  • Avoiding open-ended tasks that can potentially overwhelm pupils but providing opportunities to scaffold concepts.

Some school leaders in the report said that live lessons made it easier to encourage pupil engagement, although most schools were using a mix of live teaching and prerecorded videos. Where prerecorded videos were used, many schools complemented this with a “mechanism for discussion with pupils at a later stage” to check conceptual understanding.

The report adds: “Most leaders thought that seeing and hearing their teacher and peers is important for pupils, particularly for their wellbeing and engagement with their work. One school reported that when pupils could see each other using cameras, they had more energy for lessons than when they were solely using audio.”

For SEND students, the report highlights the importance of keeping timetables and routines as normal as possible, the use of assisted reading programmes, and training for parents in any specialist ed-tech being used.

This new report comes after Ofsted moved recently to dispel a number of “myths” about remote education, including that live lessons are the “gold standard” and that the best forms of remote learning are digital.

Elsewhere, the report finds “wide variability” between schools in the remote learning on offer. Three-fifths of the teachers surveyed in the report said they were confident they were providing a high-quality remote education when this was needed.

Most leaders said they remain focused on making sure pupils were learning what they needed to, rather than focusing on the technology. For many headteachers, teachers are expected to focus on the keys to high-quality teaching, as they would in person – namely modelling answers, questioning pupils and giving feedback as normal.

The report adds: “Pupils still learn in the same way, so principles of good pedagogy, such as the importance of practice, retrieval and feedback, need to be developed in any remote system.

“Assessment is an area of development, but the evidence indicates that pupil engagement is not the same as learning. Pupils’ conceptual understanding still needs regular assessment to ensure that they progress through the curriculum.”

The report also looks at best practice in other areas, such as safeguarding and staff wellbeing during remote education. Among its recommendations, it says that schools should have clearly set hours for virtual learning. Schools should also “carefully consider the context of their own setting and appropriate use of live lessons; consider whether other options might be more suitable in some contexts – for example, using audio only, prerecorded lessons or existing online resources.”

On staff wellbeing, the report urges the continuation of CPD to support staff, the implementation of joint lesson and resource planning, the use of pre-existing resources, and increased time for planning.

The report concludes: “While elements of remote education have proved useful, poorer pupil engagement, access to appropriate resources, staff wellbeing and the pressure remote education places on families and parents can remain real barriers to pupils’ learning and development.

“Clearly, the message from the evidence is not that we should not be doing remote education. It is an imperfect but necessary substitute in mitigating against learning loss where classroom teaching is not possible. Pupils are still learning more than they would without any school support.”

Since Monday (January 25), Ofsted has resumed monitoring inspections of schools judged to be inadequate at their previous inspection, as well as some graded “requires improvement”.

Monitoring inspections look at the progress a school is making and do not result in a a grade. Inspections will be carried out remotely by default, but Ofsted has said that it will continue to carry out on-site inspections where “we have immediate concerns – for example, about safeguarding, the leadership of a school or a failure to provide education to children”.

Chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “While remote education will help to mitigate the learning lost when children are out of the classroom, it’s clear that pupils’ motivation and engagement remains an issue. This, along with the pressure remote learning places on teachers and parents, is proving a real barrier to children’s learning and development.

“Despite the challenges, I am impressed by the flexibility and innovation shown by teachers and leaders involved in our research. I hope these insights will be valuable to schools that are still developing their own remote education offer.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College. Leaders, said: “(The) research published by Ofsted shows that schools are working incredibly hard to provide high-quality remote education to children while they are at home. However, it identifies that a key challenge is pupil engagement and motivation, which is hardly surprising in these very difficult circumstances.

“Remote education, no matter how well it is done, is obviously never going to be a substitute for direct face-to-face teaching, particularly for pupils who struggle the most. So, that is why we need not just words about fully re-opening schools, but practical actions and a timeline of how to do this in a way that is safe and inspires the confidence of education staff and the public.”

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