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The Isolation Conversation – Education

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We are thrilled to introduce our third episode, ‘The Isolation Conversation – Education’. Featuring Mark Stokes – Chief Technical Officer at Attollo Intranet, Alex Pearce – Owner at BFC Networks, Darren Hemming – Teaching and Learning Lead at Cloud Design Box and Mark Jones – Head of Physics and Director of E-Learning at Oldham Hulme Grammar School.

If you want to watch this episode click here & enjoy!

What lessons have you leant over the last week:

With the COVID-19 outbreak, our working worlds have changed even for those that are used to remote working. We asked our panel what lessons they have learnt this week whilst working in lockdown.

  • I’ve learnt that I can work until 4 o’clock in the morning to keep up with demand from customers.
  • Nothing to mind as it’s just been so busy. The demand and requirements from customers are huge. Learning to meet that challenge, is a challenge. We are learning on the go to manage time & expectations.
  • Different as you can’t see the people you’re conversing with and similarly it’s not the same as face-to-face communications.
  • We’ve been so busy we’ve had to change our processes. Work that has previous taken 6-8 weeks has now needed to be implemented in 1 week.
  • Milk tastes better from bottles than it does from a carton!
  • I’ve learnt that not all schools were closed. I thought that teachers were all on holiday. However, preparing for this episode I’ve learnt that there is a lot going on behind the scenes.

Do businesses seem open all hours to help customers?

Now that individuals are working from home, people are finding the line between home life and work life is blurred. With people seeming to be working later in the evenings, to make up hours they couldn’t complete in the day due to distractions, is there an expectation to customers that organisations are accessible 24/7.

  • Yes, you can see that people seem to be working all the time. There is a constant stream of communication on twitter whereby questions don’t stop and go on until late at night.
  • Even though businesses are putting things in place for employees to stop working at a certain time, it’s difficult to do that and therefore people are still working.

What does the landscape of education look like today?

We’re interested to know about the current landscape of education. What does it look like from the ground and what are teachers doing?

  • Structure and communication. Lessons are still happening according to the school timetable. Teachers are around to answer questions at these points in a variety of different ways. We’re still doing school assemblies in the morning.
  • It’s been interesting to see how many parents have got involved to watch the school assemblies and classes too. We feel that we are building this culture together.
  • We had a two-week block before the Easter break whereby we could test different options to see which worked best for staff and students based on their feedback.
  • A lot of schools have said that they couldn’t sustain doing their normal timetable. For example, a normal 1-hour class session. This could be due to concentration levels and having to look at a screen for long periods of time. Some schools have done condensed timetables for just core subjects such as Math’s, English & Science.
  • I think everyone is making it up as they go along and learning from what works and what doesn’t work. But also trying to fit the need of the school because every school is different, every set of children are different too. We have one independent school where all the children already have laptops, using digital notetaking for the classroom, every child was using it. They sent them all home from the boarding school. On the following Monday, every single child turned up for the first lesson, online in Microsoft Teams. 100%. That’s a huge compliment to the children and the school for the ethos they have put in. The children aren’t being lectured to for 1 hour, they are expected to complete work in the hour also.

What do we call a lesson?

Is it 1 hour of listening to the teacher and an activity listening to the teacher? Or is it just the teacher coming in and saying hello, presenting something new and then handing it over to the students. Do the students get on with work for the remaining 40 minutes and then the teacher is just on the chat if they are needed for the rest of the time?

  • There are loads of different ways you can do this as soon as you move away from a physical building that can only have 30 children with 1 teacher there, you can change it up completely.
  • With universities, you have a Brian Cox star lecture for example, who could lecture to multiple different people. Why does it need to go on separately with smaller groups?
  • How far can we push it and also encourage other people to do the same as we go.
  • We can keep certain things the same as our school has one to one chrome books that our students are used to using. Lesson objectives will be set there, and documents will be on there. Parents will then get summaries of that information.
  • One of the feedbacks we received was interesting. Say the work is scheduled to arrive 10 minutes before the lesson and it’s due at the end of the lesson. If students hand it in late it’s flagged up as late and people can’t access it before the lesson. Some students have asked for a more Netflix approach to lessons, whereby all information is there at the start of the day and they can pick which ones to work on and when.

Giving students choice over what they learn?

It’s an interesting thought to give more options back to the students. We have used the same schooling method for years and years, is there a lesson here to given children more flexibility in the school environment.

  • As adults, we can acknowledge when we have those days whereby, we don’t want to jump into certain areas of work but we know that we could handle others. Previously we haven’t given children the choice, they have a fixed timetable and they have to get their brain switched on at that particular time for a specific topic.
  • This could be a more grown-up way of working for children however presents a huge challenge on how we approach this with different age groups.
  • We have a constantly evolving online space that young adults are clued on. We can adapt learning to suit well-known products such as Netflix. They are used to the functionality. Why not replicate this in another area of their life such as education. They may find these more relatable and engage more.
  • When children get stuck on something. The younger they are the more often they ask for help. If we do the Netflix style and they get stuck on their Maths homework, that teacher is supposed to be delivering a different class at that time. Are the teachers then monitoring all their classes at once? This could be a workload issue. Would it be better to give structure to students, whereby they are only expected to spend one hour on one topic?

Education Ethos

Successful homeschooling relies entirely on an individual’s behaviour and attitude to learning. The willingness to learn, complete work and turn up to online lessons must be engraved by schools and embedded into their education ethos. More than ever, in lockdown, schools having a strong education ethos is essential. This has led to conversations and questions such as ‘What if you started a virtual school?’.

  • If you have a new school year, such as year 7’s in September, how would you do the same lessons with that bunch of children? Completely different challenge as staff don’t know the children, the children don’t know friends, teachers or the ethos of the school.
  • In some ways I hope that children go back to school in September as that’s a good time to install that ethos.
  • I think that if we do go back in September, teachers and student will be more intelligent, more independent and more resilient. If this is a short-term challenge and we have put good quality resources in to maintain progress, they are learning a lot of other skills alongside the content.
  • We could end up taking these lessons forward and back in the classroom. Now that teachers are skilled in doing screencasts at the start of a lesson. Could this continue?
  • One of the biggest Ted talks was Ken Robinson ‘Do schools kill creativity?’. We use a Victorian factor model by selecting topics based on student’s year groups and assumed ability. We have more flexibility now in that students can work through tasks at different paces. In the future science lessons, now that everyone is used to this way of working, will see children log in and do their work and when it gets to the practical bit, teachers can help. What we develop going forward could be amazing!

Is this an opportunity to do the things we’ve always talked about?

For years, there has been no time in the school day to do anything other than teach. Each hour of the day is important and teachers much stick to the times table. Could this be a time that will reinvigorate teachers and give them the time to just try something new/different? Have they had permission to go outside the box?

  • This could this be the dawn of cross-curricular activity.
  • Why can’t you mix math’s with science into big projects? We could have more project-based learning whereby you are working towards something. To achieve the objective, you have to learn a little bit of English, Maths & Science. Instead of the other way around which is what we do now.
  • Has this pandemic given teacher a bit more time to do the best for the children? They are usually so busy teaching. Has this presented as an opportunity for some freedom?

Is there another way to teach those that don’t benefit from a sit-down classroom environment? 

Preparedness of young people into the workplace.

A common debate is how prepared does education make individuals for the workplace. How often do employees experience a smooth transition from school to work where individuals coming from school know how an office environment works. Can this pandemic help create students that are more ready to join a work environment?

  • Students are now using Microsoft team, google hangouts to collaborate with peers. Maybe this will help the transition into the working world. Sometimes there is a disconnect with young and older people in a work environment, this could help that.
  • We mustn’t forget that the schools we are talking about here have good IT infrastructure and a good ethos where children are going to learn. There are other schools that don’t have devices at home who aren’t able to do things now. The challenge for them will be to bring them back into school when they have potentially had no education for 12 weeks.
  • There are some individuals that have technology at home to continue their learning during this pandemic but wont have it when they go back to school. All these children still have to go back to school and their previous ways of working and it’s about adapting to that.

Increased the education divide.

We don’t know how long the schools will be closed for but the government have informed us that all exams this year are cancelled. Children are still being encouraged to learn but with no real incentive or consequence to them if they don’t. Could we see an increase in the education divide because of this?

  • We have already seen the schools that have higher budgets continue to educate their children which could push those children to the front. While the schools with less budget where students don’t have access to work, those students get pushed behind.
  • School is a great leveller. Obviously, for different schools, they have different budgets. If you go to school, there is an opportunity for you to learn. Now, that’s not the case for many students. How do schools deal with this and it is going to cost money in the future?
  • Most students seem to have their own device, which could mean they bring this to school. However, the problem with bring you own device policy is that you can’t monitor what they use the device for and there isn’t any structure. Again, this comes down to school ethos, what it means to students to learn and do the children value their education.
  • If we can flip it on its head if we get access to deprived children and some of those communities that have been restricted. If we can prove that we can educate children in this way, that could then be a business case to have a device to access something then maybe that could help?
  • It’s all about funding. If the money and the right transformation was there, I’m sure every school could afford that but those aren’t the times that we are living in.  

What tools are used to enable teachers for remote working?

We’re Microsoft but it’s great that we have representation from google classroom too. This conversation is largely technology agnostics as tools are the facilitator as we know. What tools are schools using to enable teachers for remote working? What tools have been available before but have now seen a sudden uptake?

Video calls

  • It’s no secret that we work with the office 365 stack so Teams right now, however, everything seems to work, to be honest. If you share a video and students can participate in that it doesn’t matter what the technology behind it is.
  • Teams – schedule a meeting with your class then students are invited to that session. They receive an invitation via email. There are tweaks you can make so students don’t become presenters, so the teacher can remain in control. That way you don’t have students muting or un-muting each other and the teacher. Then run the lesson, have a conversation, then at a certain point that meeting will close down. You can also record it for that class to watch back afterwards.
  • Video call are important to our schools are recording is mandatory for us now as a safeguarding issue.
  • Live video – If it’s lesson based, sometimes it’s best to have a pre-recorded section that children can pause, re-read and go back over. You can ensure it’s a high-quality piece for that section. It’s also about being smart, teachers workload has gone up so you have to create content that is pre-thought and sustainable.

Teachers as technology promoters

Have teachers that have previously not liked technology started to like it?

  • This has been happening over a number of years but has seen a sharp rise recently. One teacher went from saying ‘I’m not having a laptop’ to assigning work to children from home within a time span of two years.
  • I think teachers and students are beginning to realised the power of technology.
  • If your trying to get schools on board with this you should start with the small things, emails, online registers, homework and then working from there.
  • It’s been interesting to see levels of informal chat going on in the different forms of technology with teachers heavily involved. Something I’ve not seen before.
  • We promote a baseline for technology that schools should have. However, everyone has their specific requirements. We are here to help them make informed decisions.

How does safeguarding change now that you can’t see the children?

To keep vulnerable children safe, schools have strict policies and procedures they must adhere to for the welfare of their children. How does this change when there is no physical environment to see a child in. Teachers still need to communicate with children and assess risk factors. Is it too invasive of people homes to implement technology for schools, such as video call sessions, or is this necessary to keep children safe?

  • Multidisciplinary approach. Teachers are aware as well as social workers and health care professionals. Those people usually have an interface and visit the home. This is happening less because of COVID-19. Therefore, there is an increased responsibility of schools to do those checks. It’s very difficult for them to stretch their time anymore. We also can’t force a child at the other end of technology to do what we want them to do, for example, turn their video on so we can see if they are in good health.
  • I spoke to a Special Educational Needs (SEN) teacher, petrified for her children. She can’t have that one to one teaching that the children she looks after need. Education gave those children stability, somewhere to go and even a hot meal. These children now have no support, no structure and maybe no help at home. How can we support them and what complications could we expect to see when go back to school?
  • This pandemic is an extra stress on all students across the board. Are the measure we have in place for all students enough. All kids are missing the social interaction that they would otherwise have and that’s likely to have an impact on them making them feel isolated.  
  • Trying to maintain a little bit of contact often. Monitoring and taking responsibility to make sure no child has been forgotten. Keep the conversations going, calls, video message just making sure they don’t feel isolated

Tips and tricks to help parents deliver educational sessions?

As we are drawing to a close we want to leave our readers with some top tips and tricks to help any parents out their delivering homeschooling sessions.

  • Some children are too young for school and can’t get out and about or go to nursery. A fun way to educate could be through making recipes. There are still educational pieces in there such as counting and science.
  • You can download age-appropriate worksheets from
  • Teach what you know. Parents aren’t teachers and don’t have those skills. It’s unfair to ask parents to home school. Parents are stressed anyway and potentially still working. If you can just be with your kids and do things that are constructive and positive that they can learn from. As we previously said math’s / science in cooking. If you’re spending time with your children, be proud of that.
  • It’s a good point that you mentioned skill sets and teaching what you know. Could parents damage or confuse their children’s education by homeschooling? It could depend on the age of the children.
  • It doesn’t really matter, this is one-to-one time with our children. When has this ever happened or will happen again? Let’s make the most of it and learn together. Capture wonder in the things that are around us.

What’s Next?

We are thrilled to introduce our fourth episode, ‘The Isolation Conversation – Remote Communities’ which will launch next week. Featuring Mark Stokes – Chief Technical Officer at Attollo Intranet, Matthew Weston – Managing Director at Vantage 365, Mark Jones – Founder at Collaboris & Collab365 and Adis Jugo – Managing Director at Nubelus 

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact us via email or call us on +44 (0)1952 288 365.


By Sam Dolan

Sam Dolan is a consultant for Attollo specialising in Intranets, SharePont & Microsoft 365.

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