The COVID-19 effect: agile working and the future workforce

May 1, 2020

Chris Toon, deputy principal at Gateshead College, explains how the college has responded to the coronavirus and how its teachers and thousands of students and apprentices have adjusted – meeting the challenges head-on to ensure disruption to learning is minimised

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, agile working was one of our key priorities for 2020. We were already working with companies such as Brewin Dolphin and Virgin Money to create more autonomy within our teaching programmes, giving teachers more freedom in how they choose to engage with students, with virtual learning becoming a main focus.

The Government’s announcement that schools and colleges would close due to coronavirus on March 20 accelerated this.

Overnight, we went from a situation where some departments were using virtual technology to teach and share knowledge on certain courses to all teachers across all departments providing a 100 per cent virtual learning environment to students.

The response from both teachers and students has been incredible. Virtual teaching classrooms have become the norm and the level of engagement from students compared to pre-lockdown measures has remained the same. I expected a bit of a ‘snow day’ effect but we’ve not yet seen this happen.

We have seen some exceptionally creative ways to ensure our students’ learning experience is maintained as much as possible.

These include everything from interactive instrumental masterclasses and online vocal coaching to dance and sports challenges and hands-on hair and beauty tasks.

For some subjects, online learning has been a smooth transition but for others, we’ve had to think outside the box. Engineering, for example, is a very practical subject and a large element of the teaching is based on real-life demonstrations and experimentations. Our curriculum leader for engineering has worked around this by taking lots of equipment home and setting up a micro- electronics lab in his bedroom, which forms a big part of the virtual lessons he provides. It’s great to see teachers using their initiative to overcome perhaps the biggest challenge they’ve faced in their careers so far.

We’re now using technology on a daily basis to engage with students. Before this pandemic, most teachers had tried remote learning but now they’re hosting Google Meets and virtual classrooms Monday to Friday, as well as using a raft of collaboration tools such as Slack and Teams to engage with colleagues, students and parents alike. Virtual etiquette is now something we are all familiar with as we’re practising it day in, day out.

Our students have adapted seamlessly to the virtual teaching methods, and are eager to learn and achieve the qualifications they need to succeed. The current crisis has brought forward the art of true independent learning that most young people only really experience when they walk into their first job or go to university.

This experience is equipping them with the skills they need. We’re preparing them for their future careers, including developing resilience and instilling the right attitude and work ethic.

From a teaching perspective, the lockdown has demonstrated our agility in meeting the educational needs of students and I really do believe this experience will have a long-lasting impact on how we deliver skills in the future.

When our campuses re-open again, face-to- face learning will, of course, resume but there will be more impetus on opportunities where students can learn remotely or attend lessons virtually.

COVID-19 has changed the transaction of teaching but it’s shown us that we are well- placed, and well-versed, in meeting the needs of our students and apprentices in whatever environment is necessary. And we will continue to adapt to provide the best standard of training and education that we can.

Gateshead College

– Advertising feature –

Scroll to next article
Go to

Scaling up during the coronavirus outbreak