How the current crisis has opened up new possibilities for real world partnerships

Schools are finding new ways to give students access to expertise and rich learning experiences

Cassie Cramer

Real World Learning Programme Manager

The isolation of lockdown has actually led to closer collaboration with external partners. Lockdown and the cancellation of exams has allowed us to take a step back from preparing students for a big test, and take a step towards preparing students for life. Part of this preparation has been planning projects and teaching to include professionals from relevant industries. I have seen lockdown increase appetite for collaboration from both teachers and organisations. These are some ways we have incorporated the offers of external organisations and how we can continue these fruitful collaborations when the school reopens.

Using ‘experts’ to hold students to account

With exams no longer being a main force of motivation for students, teachers have been looking for new ways to encourage students to be engaged, excited and accountable in their learning. What better way to promote accountability than to ask professionals from across sectors to be involved in the critique process of student work? This not only shows students the real world application for the skills and knowledge they acquire, but also raises the stakes for them. It is one thing to do a speech about LGBTQ history to your teacher and class, but quite another to present to a scholar in LGBTQ history from the Museum of London.

The closure of school gates has opened teachers and students up to external collaborations, and created a wonderful new way for me, as school support staff who works with external organisations to influence how our students learn. The lockdown has shown that working with external organisations does not have to be complicated and can encourage students to create work they are proud of for a well informed audience. I can see this period being a formative period for project teachers. I can see teachers feeling supported in including external partners in their planning and continuing to lean on support staff like myself to enhance their projects and teaching when school reopens. This has the potential to not only raise the quality of student work but also provide exposure to various professions and raise aspirations.

Virtual Work Experience

The Real World Learning Programme at School 21 is an important part of our students learning journey. It is undertaken by Year 10 and Year 12 students and has students travel to a place of work once weekly for 12 – 17 weeks and work with a team on a project with an outcome that is of benefit to the employer. Lockdown has meant the programme has been put on hold, but this is not to say that work experience has stopped for students at School 21.

This has led me to discover InsideSherpa. This is an open access platform for virtual work experience that is available to students all over the world. Based in Australia, InsideSherpa works with global corporations to create workplace simulations and projects online. Students are given a video brief from a real employee at a company, and asked to complete a brief for a client. They are then provided feedback from the company and awarded a certificate of completion. Some companies even offer references and perks to successful students. 

While students cannot actually go to a workplace, InsideSherpa is providing an opportunity to develop real skills that will prove extremely valuable in the post-Covid world. Students get to practice working independently from home to a deadline for their employer, something that many professionals are struggling to do at the moment. Inside Sherpa and other platforms like it could provide a valuable alternative for students who struggle in professional environments. Although many students thrive in a professional environment, not all students are ready for the drastic change at Year 10. Virtual work experience has the potential to provide an authentic working experience, while staff can continue to provide students with the support students are used to. Incorporating virtual work experience will lead to a more equitable offer and ensure that all students, regardless of their needs, have the chance to experience the world of work and create something of value for a real organisation.

Digital Resources to widen student experiences

Many organisations are using this time as an opportunity to convert resources they previously used in workshops or schools sessions into online resources that are simple to access and use for students. With so much wonderful content being made available for free, now is a better time than any for teachers to be utilising what already exists. From virtual coding workshops to bespoke employability training and virtual tours of historical sites, more resources than ever are available.

At School 21 we are taking this time to collate the best resources and online opportunities for students, and urging teachers to use what already exists to enhance their teaching. Now is the time to create a bank of resources that students and teachers can access now, and in the future to elevate teaching and learning. This is an opportunity for schools to realise the potential for student development through online resources, and for teachers to find, adapt and embed some of the great opportunities available online into their practice in the physical classroom.

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