Enabling learning from a distance

How are schools meeting the challenges of delivering remote learning? Victoria Temple, community engagement officer at the National Centre for Computing Education, shares how computing experts are leading the way on coping with the challenges of education during coronavirus

The impact of coronavirus saw teachers adapt quickly to new ways of working in 2020. It looks like the challenges are set to continue in 2021. For teachers who specialise in computing and STEM subjects, it’s seen them bring their expertise to the fore.
Chris Hillidge, director of STEM at The Challenge Academy Trust which runs schools and colleges in Warrington, said their prior focus on tech had meant they were well-placed to meet the challenges of the impact of COVID-19.
“Luckily, we were ahead of the game to some extent because I’d already introduced Google Classroom in 2019 across the school for ‘flipped learning,’  pre-learning and extension work,” said Chris.
“The first lockdown accelerated our use of online resources and remote capabilities and, since September, we have seen some amazing innovative practice from teachers of all subjects.”

The digital divide

Lack of access to technology has, by far, been the biggest challenge. “We carried out a technology survey to see what devices students had at home. Many students have smartphones but they can’t complete work on these. Work is set on Google Classroom and lessons are live streamed or pre-recorded so children can access them,” said Chris.
“Our school is an area of considerable socio-economic deprivation and many students simply do not have a suitable device at home, or access to the internet.
“As teachers have become more proficient and provided better quality content we have seen an increasing divide, especially with younger students, whose parents don’t have the necessary tech skills to support their children to access learning online.”
Overcoming those challenges has meant drawing on support from a variety of sources. Laptops have come via the government’s programme, Get Help with Tech, and some local authority provision as well as new partnerships. Their Local Enterprise Partnership funded 35 laptops and WiFi dongles for disadvantaged students and they’ve received 50 SIM cards with data allowance from Vodafone.

Training to deliver online lessons

At Bolder Academy in Isleworth, West London, staff were given training to deliver online lessons.
“Staff were given a choice regarding the methods of delivery, such as live lessons or pre-recorded - which helped to ensure staff felt comfortable and confident whilst still providing a high quality curriculum,” explained Adrienne Tough, head of computing, e-safety and digital learning at the school.
“We also contact home to help resolve any practical issues and encourage engagement. This parental contact, combined with praise through virtual postcards and house points has had a positive impact for online attendance and helped us achieve a strong online presence.”
Primary schools have also faced challenges, particularly with online access and with balancing classroom teaching with remote learning.
Martyn Soulsby of the leadership team at North Lakes Primary School, Penrith, said the workload has been immense for staff who are already stretched.
“Staff are coping with extra duties because they are in bubbles,” said Martyn who is also computing lead at the school.
“Tech at home is a real issue as well as ensuring staff have decent laptops, with laptops doubling in price and schools simply not having the budget for these. We are in Cumbria and broadband is variable – it is not possible to provide equality when not all pupils have connectivity or when there are three pupils sharing one device with parents working from home too.”  

The right resources

Devices are key, but so is getting the right online resource. The National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) has also adapted to ensure its resources support teachers’ new reality of delivering remote and classroom learning.
Dave Gibbs, STEM Learning’s senior computing and technology specialist and part of the NCCE’s team, praised teachers who have “performed minor miracles to keep children learning.”
“Schools are now past the ‘emergency response’ phase of remote teaching and into more regular patterns of provision,” said Dave.
Support from the NCCE has been designed with both classroom and remote teaching in mind, feeding into the government’s Oak National Academy home learning provision.
“The NCCE has been busy adapting our Teach Computing Curriculum to Oak National Academy. The lessons are video-rich; are freely-available; and require no registration,” said Dave.
“For A-level Computer Science teachers, the Isaac Computer Science platform provides learning materials and videos, as well as self-assessments and online student master classes, to support the full curriculum.”
The NCCE launched its Teach Computing Curriculum in the summer with over 500 hours of teaching materials to deliver the entire computing curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 4 in England.
“There have been over 145,000 lesson downloads by all our users since September, with an overall satisfaction rating of 97 per cent positive,” said Dave.
“And to help schools develop a curriculum implementation plan, which may include remote teaching, our team of subject matter experts is ready to work with schools upon request. They’ve already supported 1,000 schools across England.”
While the coronavirus may have led to isolation, it’s also shown the value and strength of communities.
Computing at School (CAS), a teacher-led network supported by the NCCE, has seen increased attendance at its online meetings and events to share resources and ideas.
“CAS Community Leaders have supported their communities with targeted meetings and our programme of CAS Inspire events has focussed on cross-curricular delivery of Computing to support the primary curriculum and teaching safely using online technologies,” said Beverly Clarke, national community manager at CAS.
Back in Warrington, Chris Hillidge, who also runs a CAS community and leads the NCCE Computing Hub for Merseyside and Warrington agreed, saying: “CAS has been a really useful support network and back in May and June we saw increased numbers of teachers accessing the NCCE’s remote CPD courses.
“I think it showed teachers that remote learning can be as simple or complex as you want to make it so long as it is effective and learning takes place.
“The pandemic has definitely accelerated teachers’ tech skills – teachers who were Chromebook-phobic in March are now running virtual subject networks remotely because they realise that it saves so much time without travelling to a central venue.
“We’ve come through an extraordinary, challenging year and, despite the social distancing we’ve also seen new and stronger partnerships forming which will stand us in good stead for the future.”


The National Centre for Computing Education provides a range of support in England to improve the teaching of computing in schools and colleges from primary through to GCSE and A level and aims to drive up participation in Computer Science.
It delivers a wide range of professional development, both face-to-face and online, along with resources and support from regional school-based Computing Hubs and the grassroots Computing at School community.
It was established in November 2018 with £84 million of government funding and is led by a consortium of STEM Learning, The Raspberry Pi Foundation, and BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. This level of investment in the development of teachers of computing is unprecedented anywhere in the world.