Learning online
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Learning online

From InterAction 104, spring 2020

Could an online school help young people with M.E. access education in a way that works for them? Theresa Burns, our Project Coordinator for Scotland, finds out more.

We’ve been talking with Steven Graham, Principal Teacher of STEM at e-Sgoil in Stornoway, about i-Sgoil, their online pilot for interrupted learners. Could this offer young people with M.E. and other long-term health conditions the flexibility and support they need to remain engaged in learning? Feedback from young people and their families already using i-Sgoil is positive. One parent reported: “Today was the first time in years that she has had contact with her peers. How amazing is that for a huge step forward today? Other than family she lives a life of relative solitude. Today, she was part of something and the smile on her face at the end of the session was fantastic to see. We have tried everything over the years. The fact that there are other people there, rather than a one to one, makes all the difference, but she also felt in control of what she can let other people hear and see.” We asked Steven to tell us more.

What is i-Sgoil?

i-Sgoil is an online school which enables pupils whose learning has been interrupted through ill health or other factors to carry on with their education. Live, interactive lessons are delivered online with specialist teachers on hand for support.

i-Sgoil is for any secondary school pupil in an area of Scotland covered by the Northern Alliance who, for whatever reason, are currently not regularly attending their local school.

What courses are available?

So far, our focus has been on Maths and English but we aim to extend the range of subjects available depending on demand. All you need to do is let your Guidance Teacher know that you are willing to give it a go!

Classes are held online and can be accessed from anywhere. They are held at regular periods through the week, usually within normal school day hours – and they are much smaller than in a regular school.

What equipment is needed?

You will need access to a laptop/device, headset, webcam and a suitable study space. Your school may be able to help you source any equipment you do not currently have.

You will not be forced to speak if you do not want to. Neither will you have to show yourself on camera if you do not want to. Until you feel comfortable, you can simply watch the teacher and type your responses. Once you feel comfortable, you may become more confident about participating fully in the lessons.

Why is it called i-Sgoil?

The ‘i’ not only stands for ‘interrupted’ but also ‘interactive,’ ‘in a community,’ ‘in control’ and ‘impact.’ Sgoil means school in Gaelic!

Feedback from pupils includes:

  • “I have enjoyed being able to learn from home and get the chance to be learning again.”
  • “Everyone in the class is out of school for some reason so nobody is different.”
  • “Positive, helpful and interesting.”
  • “I think I’ve gained a bit more confidence.”
  • “I think because there are only a few people in the class it feels like a comfortable environment.”
  • “Fun, educational, reassuring.”
  • “Go ahead and do it, just give it a chance!”

How do you know it will be suitable for young people with M.E.?

Pupils considered suitable for our pilot offer would normally be nominated by their school or local authority. We recognise that each young person is different and always arrange for a one-on-one session before lessons begin, so that we can get to know the pupil and find out how they would wish to engage with us initially.

We look to enable young people with chronic conditions such as M.E. to access an education from their own homes and be part of an interactive, online community of learners, rather than being isolated and alone. We record all lessons so that those suffering with symptoms do not miss out and can catch up when they feel up to it.

Currently, our pilot is restricted to young people resident in the north of Scotland, as we are funded by the Northern Alliance. Additional and sustained funding would enable us to offer a broader range of subjects and support more interrupted learners across Scotland towards sustained, positive destinations.

A representative of our Educate M.E. steering group, who has a special interest in an online school, is working with us to explore how we can take this forward. She has already written to the Minister for Education, asking for investment in i-Sgoil and a pilot, and is encouraging parents to contact e-Sgoil to support them to gather evidence of need from across Scotland.

She says: “Schools have enormous difficulty in supporting young people with M.E., with many still being accused of school phobia. But they are actually also best-placed to identify this illness in its early stages. To help address this problem, I would recommend that e-Sgoil should be specifically funded to support children with M.E. This option should be promoted in a systematic way to all secondary school support teachers, so that they can proactively offer it to young people and their parents at an early stage of the illness. It is becoming clear that early action can improve recovery outcomes for people with M.E., whereas being pushed to attend school when unwell can have a huge long-term impact.”

Without Scottish Government investment, securing funding for a pilot online school will be extremely challenging. Most charitable trusts and grants will not support work that is considered to be a statutory responsibility. If you have ideas about potential investors and philanthropists with an interest in this area, please get in touch.

Call 0117 927 9551 or email questions@actionforme.org.uk

Raising awareness of M.E. in schools

Our team in Scotland are continuing their work to improve support provided to young people in school. Produced as part of our Educate M.E. project, our online How can I help? resource for teachers has been developed into interactive, awareness-raising workshop, delivered to 115 teaching staff and 100 pupils in South Ayrshire over the past year.

One teacher who attended a session in January told us: “I learned more about the condition, the challenges children and their families can face. Also, ways I could potentially support a child with M.E.” Attendees have also told us that the guidance and training will help them to support young people with other long-term health conditions like lupus. Thanks to a parent’s helpful introduction to a key member of teaching staff, we have been able to share this learning across the local authority – and we need your support to open other doors. If you are able to offer a similar introduction, please get in touch.

Though funding for this work has come to an end, our intention is to secure additional funding so we can deliver sessions to other communities in Scotland.

Find out more information on how you can help here.

AV1 robot

No Isolation’s AV1 robot has been supporting young people with long-term health conditions to access education.

The robot sits in the classroom and streams live video and audio to the young person’s tablet. Fitted with a camera, speaker and microphone, it allows them to communicate with their classmates and teachers. A selection of emotions can be displayed through the robots eyes, and the young person using the AV1 can turn the robot’s head, and illuminate it when they want to raise their hand. This allows young people living with health conditions to participate without being physically present. Young people with cancer, M.E. and mental health issues are among those eligible to use the robot.

Action for M.E. has been part of a steering group alongside other charities supporting children with disabilities and long-term health. We attend regular meetings alongside Cath Kitchen (Chair, pictured with AV1) and Sarah Dove (Project Manager at No Isolation), a young person representative and many others.

Now one year into the project, we are excited to see how No Isolation develop this project so that many more young people with M.E. can be supported to access education.