Remote Learning – Making online learning succeed for all

Most experts agree – remote learning is a means to an end. It’s not the end in itself. As a delivery route with many implementation choices, schools and teachers have great freedom to adopt and adapt lesson plans to optimise pupils’ at home learning experience.

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“It’s been a difficult start to the year for schools as teachers juggle remote learning, social distancing and Covid testing.“ -- BBC News

In this article, Sing Education takes a closer look at what good remote learning looks like – what to expect for different pupil ages and learning key stages, what’s currently working well in schools for teachers, parents and children and lastly, what delivery gaps urgently need to be addressed.

Most experts agree – remote learning is a means to an end. It’s not the end in itself. As a delivery route with many implementation choices, schools and teachers have great freedom to adopt and adapt lesson plans to optimise pupils’ at home learning experience. Most importantly, remote learning isn’t meant to fundamentally change the direction of travel for education nor the key concepts that are being taught. Thus simply expecting students to sit in front of a screen for seven hours a day is not only counterproductive to learning outcomes, it’s also counter to the ethos of remote learning.

That said, the Department for Education1 has provided broad standards for what online teaching entails. These guidelines are certainly worth reiterating here:

  • Schools are expected to set meaningful and ambitious work each day in several different subjects
  • Schools are expected to provide remote education that includes either recorded or live direct teaching
  • Lessons should be of equivalent length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school – that’s 3 hours a day for Key Stage 1 and 4 hours a day for Key Stage 2
  • Lesson hours include both direct teaching and time for pupils to complete tasks or assignments independently.
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What to Expect from Remote Learning?

We’ve Been to This Rodeo Before – Best Remote Learning Practices

Andrew Truby, Executive Headteacher2 at St Wilfrid’s Primary School and St Thomas of Canterbury School in Sheffield confidently declared at the start of term, “These are the most challenging times that we’ve lived through. But unlike in March, we’re now really well equipped for this situation. We are experienced at working quickly in schools to respond to the challenges of the pandemic.”


So what’s working in the classroom? Here are some of the best practices as identified by Ofsted, DfE and other educational experts: 

  • Keep it simple – everything we know about cognitive science and learning still applies, regardless of delivery method. That’s why it’s recommended remote lessons eliminate extraneous bells and whistles, skip the fussy graphics and avoid complex digital interaction in favour of streamlined materials that are easy to present, easy to navigate and allow students to share and receive critical feedback.
  • Live lessons are not always best3 – Live lessons are not always as effective as asynchronous learning because “It can be hard to build in interaction and flexibility. This means that giving feedback can actually be less effective than when we use recorded lesson segments followed by interactive chats, or tasks and feedback.”
  • Children need opportunities to practice and maintain social skills4 and chat may play a role in that – According to Ofsted “schools [should] consider [whether] enabling chat group and video-linking functions [suits their needs] to allow for interaction.” 
  • Engagement matters, but digital surveillance isn’t always the most reliable technique – Monitoring the initiation, progression and completion student work through online learning platforms allows teachers to maintain a general overview of what pupils are accomplishing at home. However, it’s also important to engage them directly through chatroom discussions, 1-to-1 interaction tools, interactive touch-screen questioning in live recorded lessons and similar to allow for questions to raised and lesson objectives to be clarified.

Remote Learning Hiccups - How to Strengthen Distance Delivery

More laptops. Accessible Internet. Better SEND provision.

According to the Independent5, “more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.” This means they don’t have a reliable, affordable way to connect to online lessons. Calls are afoot from a number of senior public figures such as former education secretaries and former PM Tony Blair, to encourage internet providers to offer free data as a critical means of bridging the technology gap exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“A ‘digital divide’ among pupils means that many are unable to access or afford mobile devices or an adequate broadband connection, with technology firms being urged to do more to make data and devices available to those unable to afford to take part in remote learning.6” 

Recent Ofcom data puts this divide in stark relief, revealing that between 1.1 to 1.8 million children in the UK (9% of the population) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.7

In fact, “new research from Bath Spa University, in collaboration with nasen, has revealed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). [The report] highlights concerns around the provision of specialist support for children and young people and the impact on Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs).

Lessons from the Virtual Classroom

Remote learning holds great potential for both educators and pupils. It permits learning to progress despite mandated school closures and reduced in-person classroom contact.

For it to work well, remote learning should be designed to be age- and learning stage-appropriate for each pupil. Lessons should be meaningful, equivalent in length to core teaching and incorporate time spent in direct teaching, as well as independent work by students.

We’ve learned a lot since the UK’s first lockdown in March 2019. 

The keys to solid remote learning delivery include keeping things simple, using asynchronous technique where it makes sense, offering children the means to flex their social skills and using a variety of interaction methods to gauge and encourage lesson engagement.

Lastly, we’ve seen that certain student populations are at disproportionate risk of adverse impacts from the pandemic – rooted in the widening digital divide that encroaches on their educational experience. Students without laptops or tablets. Students with special educational needs. Students whose only source of Internet access is a mobile device. These are the groups most likely to fall short of the promise of remote learning if schools, parents and teachers aren’t vigilant.

For even more info, practical tips and guidance, click to download your FREE A4 Printable “10 Ways To Succeed with Remote Learning”



  1. What should remote education look like? – FE News
  2. Video Tweet: Parents you’re not alone – Department for Education
  3. What’s working well in remote education – Guidance
  4. Speed read: What Ofsted says works well in remote learning – SchoolsWeek
  5. As millions of children remote learning suffer bad connections, internet providers have to offer free data – The Independent
  6. As millions of children remote learning suffer bad connections, internet providers have to offer free data – The Independent
  7. As millions of children remote learning suffer bad connections, internet providers have to offer free data – The Independent
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about the author

Articles by this Author

In our experience as a leading curricular music provider, Sing Education has looked at the reason why so many music, art and theatre teachers struggle to stay engaged with their chosen career – despite their overwhelming love for children and primary education.
Services we provide to support SEND teaching and learning vary from team training sessions with SENDCo’s, specialised support in class and training for staff.
Sing Education hires the top musicians, trains them appropriately and inspires positive values for stress-free teacher management at schools.

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