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Ofsted’s review of online education during coronavirus - AoC responds

17 July 2020

Ofsted has published a review of online education during coronavirus (COVID-19) in the further education and skills (FES) sector. This is a useful short review which was conducted at the suggestion of AoC. It offers colleges an insight into what is working well and what can be improved in online education. Inspectors were impressed with most of what they saw and were very positive about the openness and initiative they found across the sector. The review confirms our own survey findings that colleges and their students have embraced online teaching overall, while there is some variability and the digital divide in student access to suitable technology at home remains a significant issue.” Inspectors saw some of the most digitally enabled colleges, and across the sector there is a need for more investment in infrastructure, content and professional development to support online teaching. There is also a need for investment in reengagement, support and ‘catch up’ provision for the most disadvantaged post-16 students. The review in summaryInspectors sampled 20 colleges and other providers and carried out discussions with college staff and online observations of lessons, sessions and other interactions. They asked learners about their experience of the online education they received and commented on the process of managing the transition to online education. Learners’ experience of online education In several cases, learners reported a good overall experience while learners’ experiences varied considerably. In many cases, staff speak to learners as frequently as they did when before the pandemic and learners get similar amounts of tuition and pastoral time as before. Learners prefer ‘live’ online lessons to recorded lessons. Learners miss the face-to-face contact of the classroom although some find online education more convenient. In general, learners at levels 1 and 2 have engaged less well than those at level 3 and some online teaching can result in learners becoming disengaged. Some learners admitted to being frequently distracted and teachers deal with this by actively checking on their engagement. Teachers do not always use online teaching sessions effectively to check on and develop learning. Management of online education A degree of variability is to be expected and inspectors were impressed by the determination and tenacity of leaders in the sector and at what they’ve managed to achieve for learners. The success of the transition to online learning in lockdown has depended on how well prepared managers, staff and learners were and how well the transition was planned. Colleges have made considerable efforts to support learners in accessing online education, but the lack of suitable technology or connectivity at home remains a problem for a significant minority of learners. Colleges have shown ingenuity in enabling learners to carry out practical work at home, where this is safe. Many providers have reinforced the message to learners about keeping safe online and developed protocols to help ensure online safety in live teaching sessions. The varying competence and confidence of staff with information technology has affected providers’ success in making the transition to online learning. Materials were often non-interactive and teachers did not always use them well to help learners learn more. In many cases, teaching staff and their managers meet regularly to discuss and modify their online programmes.