Moving to blended learning: the possibilities and pitfalls

With the traditional September return for all pupils in England now looking increasingly doubtful, plans for the ‘new normal’ in schools are underway and on the minds of teachers and parents alike. While we await details of the government’s catch-up plan and possible reduction in the physical distancing rules from 2m to 1m, it seems likely that some form of hybrid or blended learning will need to be in place for much of the autumn term, if not longer. What does that mean for teachers, children and parents? Can we learn anything from how other countries have approached school reopening?  

First of all, just as there has been a wide variety of approaches to remote learning and teaching during the lockdown period, when schools have remained open for the children of key workers and certain other categories, so there is currently no single clear model for how blended learning might operate once schools reopen more widely. With children in 15-strong bubbles, some schools may choose to operate a rota system with, for example, half a class learning at home for half a week at a time or on a one-week on / one-week off, or two days in a bubble/deep clean day/two days the next bubble schedule. Teachers and teaching assistants are likely to be further stretched as they handle greater numbers in school while still maintaining remote learning for those children who are ‘at home’.

What do teachers think?

What we’re hearing very clearly from teachers are concerns around the challenge of planning for different bubbles – children in school, children in school and at home, and a likely proportion of children not coming into school at all. What is feasible and fair?

At a recent community of practice online meeting of some of the schools we work with, teachers set out their worries and questions about blended learning. The Jamboard below gives a snapshot of their concerns, with the number of ticks showing the areas of greatest worry for the teachers.

Questions about equality and equity are at the forefront of teacher concerns, especially around digital provision. We have written elsewhere about the digital divide and the effects of the move to remote learning on the 700,000 children who are unable to complete any schoolwork because of a lack of internet at home. Equal access to resources is critical but equal access to teacher attention and presence is also important. It may be hard for teachers to continue to provide the same level of individual comments and feedback on the work children complete on online platforms when they are also trying to do the same in the face-to-face classroom.

Many teachers are trying to achieve equity by providing the same activities online and in-class. However, our view is that this doesn’t necessarily capitalise on what works best in each situation. Face to face teaching and remote provision offer different opportunities – explaining or modelling key ideas can work best in person while remote sessions might be better for checking knowledge through quizzes and encouraging independent practice such as an extended piece of writing. But again, workload can become an issue if teachers are attempting to provide high-quality teaching both in person and online, as well as maintaining consistency.

What about parents? 

A recent Young Minds report provides an insight into the impact on families and in what ways parents would like more support from schools. In particular, parents said they wanted:

  • Better communication with the school – such as a weekly call with parents or regular check-ins with their children
  • Clarity around expectations in regards to school work, and less pressure from the school in regard to completing work
  • Mental health advice from schools
  • Access to computers for their children, or better internet connection
  • Advice on transitions back into school
  • Adding arts and wellbeing to their school curriculum

They were concerned about supporting their child with their education, either because of not having time to help, not feeling qualified to help, or they felt that schools were setting too much work, work that was too hard to complete without a teacher, or too hard to complete outside of a classroom setting. 

The move to blended learning, with children in school for some of the time, may offer schools the opportunity to support families better with greater communication but, again, there will be resource constraints.

How have other countries, which have returned to school sooner than the UK, managed the transition?

A recent Edutopia blog post takes a look at the situation in some of the European countries that have returned to the classroom. In Luxembourg, middle school teacher Emily Lewis Agraz says that she uploads virtual lessons on Monday for the week, and then holds virtual and in-person class for all students at the same time. Virtual breakout rooms allow for grouping across the divide, but they’re imperfect – a “far cry from the normally dynamic, interactive lessons many teachers plan”. 

Michelle Kaszuba from Frankfurt, Germany, takes a similar tack: some lessons allow for a “hybrid learning situation where you are engaging the entire class in both realms,” she writes, “while for others it might be best to work directly with the kids in the room, while those at home are working independently – and then they will flip tasks the next day.” 

Over in the Netherlands, school leader Laura Landers says that assigning a greater proportion of independent work is a key, since “teachers are busy in the classroom and cannot do as much online support.”

One of our partner schools in the Co-Make project, which brings together educators from across Europe to look at computational thinking in early years, is Snijders School in the Netherlands where, even pre-Covid, there was a focus on independence with children planning their own schedules and choosing which workshops they do. Every child has their own digital portfolio using Bordfolio and the focus is on this as a record of progress rather than grades. According to our colleagues at Snijders, the platform has come into its own during lockdown, with a combination of children working alternately in small groups in school and at home using Bordfolio. Teachers have seen benefits in small group working and children and parents are now experienced at working on activities from home set using Bordfolio.

Meanwhile, colleagues in Tampere, Finland described how they moved thousands of students to using MS teams across the region. Even kindergarten children used Teams for catch up calls with their teachers and weekly class socials. Harri Juvela, who has managed the implementation of the technology and CPD for teachers, told us that the municipality is now preparing for a range of scenarios should the virus come back. Schools are now in a good position to teach remotely, blended or in school.

This chimes with recent research from the Microsoft Education community, which found that 61% of educators expect to begin the next school year in a hybrid learning environment and 87% said they expect to use technology more than before once in-classroom teaching resumes.

As Edutopia highlights,

“Perhaps most importantly, a strong technology foundation can provide flexibility and continuity if the virus re-emerges and postpones reopenings or forces another round of school closures – as it has already in France, Israel, and South Korea – or when, as we heard from China, remediation or extended hours are needed to make up for significant learning loss among students.”

Encouragingly, it is something we’ve also heard from teachers. There is a strong intention to continue with the platforms each school community has become familiar with during the remote period, strengthening and using them even more, including for homework, once a greater level of normality returns.

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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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