About the organisation
London & South East Education Group comprises of a multi-campus college (London South East Colleges), eight schools (London South East Academies Trust) and a Training Provider (London Skills for Growth). We have over 13,000 students and 2000 staff members.
We are a social enterprise, which goes beyond delivering JUST education. We support our local communities across Bromley, Bexley, and Greenwich by helping to improve social and economic growth.
What challenges were you trying to address?
The impact of COVID-19 on our all provision was sudden and dramatic. Apprenticeships have been hugely affected with monthly starts reducing from between 50 and 80 per month to between four and eight. The financial impact of this will be felt in the next academic year so we are engaging with employers to help mitigate this.
The majority of our schools are alternative provision and special schools. We’re required to stay open for the most vulnerable children. Our college campus also had to remain open for children whose parents are key workers and for those young people with EHCP (special educational needs) and/or social workers.
Alongside the many challenges of keeping sites open we had to move the majority of our education provision online. This was a huge endeavour. Much of our college provision is focused on vocational and practical delivery, which doesn’t lend itself easily to virtual learning.
We are also focused on our September recruitment of future students. For many 16 and 18-year-olds, their progression and next steps have become very uncertain. With campuses shut, we are unable to offer our usual open days to prospective students or enrolment sessions for them to confirm their places. We needed to find ways to allow these essential processes to continue.
What goals or outcomes did the Group want to achieve?
Our main goals are:
- Continuity of learning for all our students, both those onsite and those at home
- Successful recruitment and enrolment of students for September 2021
- Working closely with employers to identify skills gaps and post-COVID-19 industry needs
- Adapting and flexing our curriculum to ensure it continues to meet the needs of employers and industry going forward
- Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all our staff and students as we begin to welcome some groups back on sites.
What was your solution?
We quickly optimised our virtual learning platforms and supported staff to deliver lessons via these. Students were given one-to-one sessions with tutors to discuss plans, worries and concerns – including progression plans for September and assessment issues.
For prospective students we developed virtual open days. We publicise these across traditional and social media and staff are supported to take part in interactive sessions. Enrolment is online, with students invited in individually to pick up student ID cards for September.
We set up a Head Start programme for progressing and new students to learn over the summer. This consists of a variety of activities to read, watch, and take part, related to the student’s study programme. Our employer partners input into these programmes.
For staff, we ensured regular communication via a weekly group newsletter and staff bulletins. The Principal holds a weekly ‘lunch and learn’ session via Zoom, open to all. Additionally, our staff have undertaken a variety of volunteering roles – ranging from the manufacturing of PPE equipment to the transporting of blood to hospitals.
The College also launched the national FE Foodbank Friday initiative, which has seen 30 colleges around the country sign up to raise money for local foodbanks to support their communities. To date, over £40,000 has been raised. We have also established six virtual employer boards covering a range of industry/curriculum areas.
The education sector has been hugely impacted by COVID-19 with great pressure on schools and colleges to act quickly and effectively. As businesses, colleges have had to look ahead and develop ways to protect student recruitment (revenue) to ensure economic stability through and beyond the pandemic. We also have a responsibility to our communities to support the local economy through what is certain to be a very challenging period. We will continue to work with industry to identify future skills needs, supporting employers to fill gaps while identifying career opportunities for people across Bromley, Bexley, Greenwich and beyond.— Dr Sam Parrett OBE, CEO, London & South East Education Group
How did you roll out your approach?
Moving the college over to remote teaching and learning was done at great pace.
Key challenges included hardware issues – many students don’t have access to laptops. The London Boroughs across which we operate include some highly deprived areas and digital poverty is a real issue. We have made over £200k available for the purchase of equipment to help support students who need laptops and other technology including dongles. To date, we have approved 375 requests from students for IT equipment.
Following this, staff had to adapt quickly to virtual teaching. Our digital transformation team created a digital support community Microsoft Teams network and two Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions are run for teaching staff every week.
Support staff are all currently based at home and have used online meeting software and shared drives to continue. Each member of staff received a grant of up to £100 for expenses related to home working. Good communication has been key, and managers are focused on keeping staff up to date with frequent policy announcements and guidelines.
All our schools have stayed open for small numbers of children throughout the lockdown period, together with one of our college sites (for SEND provision). They are now all working towards a wider re-opening in line with government policy – welcoming back Years R,1 and 6.
Health and safety measures being put in place include: spacing out desks, removing furniture to create room, deep clean schedules, signage and 2m floor markings throughout buildings, staggered arrival and departure times, adequate PPE where necessary and clear communication with parents (and students) as to what to wear, bring and do when coming on site. Creating safe workplaces for employees is a challenge for all industry.
What have the results been?
Student participation rates vary between curriculum areas – but 64% of learners who responded to our survey are participating in online learning at least three times a week.
Top areas for participation include:
- Digital Media – 85%
- Business – 79%
- Health and Social Care – 73%
- Travel – 60%
Our summer recruitment campaign will be launched later this month and online enrolment will open in July. Our first ‘pilot’ virtual open day took place in late May and was a real success, attracting over 350 registrations. Further open days are scheduled.
In terms of our commercial courses, we received 200 applications in the first week. Following our continued engagement with employers, apprenticeship vacancies rose by 38% from April to May, indicating that businesses are now beginning to think about their workforce needs going forward post-COVID.
Our six employer boards have been well attended – and it has become clear that virtual meetings are effective and efficient for attendees. Going forward we plan to use this model to help secure maximum employer attendance and involvement.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
This has been a dramatic period of change for educational institutions. To help staff make the necessary adjustments, internal communication and consultation has been key for us. Employer relations are also essential. Continuing to have conversations with key partners is vital to ensure that as educators, we continue to understand the changing skills needs both locally and further.
Survival during these challenging times is all about adaptability and flexibility. Businesses need to be more agile than ever before, while looking to the future and assessing if and how customers’ needs may change.