10 September 2020
The College’s blended delivery model whereby all students are taught partly in college and partly online has been influenced by a number of factors in response to the Covid-19 situation. It has been informed by guidance provided by Central Government, Public Health England, advice and expectations shared by the Department for Education and the college’s own experiences of the last six months.
It remains a plan in which we feel confident that we can achieve the best balance in maintaining a safe environment for our staff and students whilst providing an impactful and enriched learning experience.
All of our programmes here at Plumpton have an important practical component in which students are able to access the college’s excellent facilities in order to develop the key vocational skills which stand them in such good stead for their future progression into further study and employment. The days in which students will come in to study in college will mean that all students will continue to undertake those essential practical lessons as they would normally.
Equally though, all of our courses have an important academic component which is more important than ever before given the increased technical knowledge requirements of many of the employers our students will go on to work for. Therefore the theory element of our programmes is as important as the practical and for most students, these lessons will be accessed partly in college and partly online.
We have ourselves recognised that the delivery of virtual learning needed to change compared to that which a lot of our students encountered at such short notice after lockdown. We have therefore committed to ensuring that all students follow a timetable on their virtual or online delivery days, in which the significant majority of lessons will be taught online as a live lesson, as opposed to students accessing materials and being expected to study on their own. We have and are continuing to train our staff to ensure that they are equipped with the skills and confidence to be able to deliver effective learning during these lessons, which will be engaging and interactive for students too.
We do of course recognise that for many of our students, this will also be a very different way of learning and therefore we will be providing lots of support for students on their college days to ensure they can access and gain maximum benefit from these virtual lessons, whilst they develop these all important digital skills which will be even more important in their future lives and careers.
The change we have made to our platform for online learning is also essential to ensuring these online theory lessons are successful, and MS Teams has multiple applications to enable this. It will also have a range of other benefits such as enabling a far more effective means of communication and feedback to our learners for their teaching, support staff and personal tutors or progress coaches.
Despite the College being a large site, and with many lessons delivered practically outdoors, just like any other educational setting, we do have capacity restrictions, especially in communal areas. As per the Department for Education’s guidance, we will be adhering to the minimum of 1m social distancing in teaching areas. This has been introduced alongside a number of other safety measures including our careful management of student access and movement across the site and particularly in communal areas. Whilst other providers, including schools, are able to stagger start and end times of the day or maintain smaller student bubbles, one of our other main restrictions is our rural location and the fact that the vast majority of our students come into college via our college bus network. This means that we also cannot have students on half day timetables or with big gaps in timetables as this only puts more pressure on those communal areas outside of lesson times.
Perhaps most importantly though is the fact that our blended model can be easily flexed up or down to respond to any potential changes in terms of Covid-19. In the case whereby there may be a local or even national lockdown at any point in the future, all of our lessons could very easily be switched to the online model which our staff and students will already be confident using. This flexibility from our blended model will minimise disruption and downtime should an event occur because our staff and students will already be equipped through their experience of blended learning.
Like many of our students and their parents we would like to have our students in college more. We are therefore continually reviewing the model and these plans and I can assure you that this very much remains the case even at the start of the academic year.
For our second year level three students, we have are currently exploring ways in which students can start to come into college either for a second day per week or block weeks, either to access additional practical lessons, for their theory lessons or to catch up on important skills development work that might have been missed at the end of last academic year. Based on a clear rationale by individual course, these outcomes are likely to be different for each one, but I expect this review to be completed in the next two weeks and am hopeful that we can then begin a phasing in process whereby students are bought back into college more.
I will directly communicate the outcome of that with all students and their parents in due course and we will of course give notice and support regarding any changes in travel arrangements this might result in.
Since the original 400-acre College farm was bought back in 1919, Plumpton College has certainly seen a lot of changes.