Long term absence is tackled by hundreds of schools across the UK using AV1 – a small desktop avatar or 'robot' for the absent pupil.
We sat down for a Q&A with the headteacher at Our Lady Immaculate Catholic Primary School (a primary school in Wigan) to learn how they used AV1 during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Due to the coronavirus, clinically extremely vulnerable people were advised to shield and this meant that one of our pupils could not return to school once we re-opened until March 31st when shielding ended."
"At first the teacher was reluctant to use technology in class that would allow a parent to listen in on their teaching. Some schools had already been doing live lessons at home for remote learning and there were stories of parents critiquing teachers. The AV1 was introduced to the other pupils using the lesson provided and the children thought it was a wonderful idea. They enjoyed being able to interact with their classmates who were at home."
"The AV1 was used to allow the pupil to listen to lesson input and engage in discussion with the class. It was also used for small group work with a teaching assistant so that guided reading could be done. We didn't use it at break times but may have developed this use if our pupil hadn't been able to return for longer."
“The pupil who used AV1 has a diagnosis of ASC and would not engage with school work during school closure. They saw home and school as separate with no cross over. Once AV1 was introduced, there was a complete turnaround. The pupil joined in with discussions and listened to input and completed the work set. This change happened from the first lesson it was used and continued until the pupil returned to school.”
"Although we only really had chance to use AV1 to support the pupil academically, there is no doubt that this improved the pupil's wellbeing and his ability to interact socially with people outside of his family group for the first time in many months."
"See above. It also gave the pupil a reason to have a routine, to get up out of bed and be meaningfully engaged in activity. I think we all came to realise how important this is during lockdown. Taking part in the activity gave the pupil something to be proud of in their achievements."
"How did you overcome these? We had a little hiccup at first where we gave the code to the parent (which we shouldn't have done) and then needed a new code. We thought that our IT team would have to set it up for us but actually, once the app was installed, it was really user friendly."
"We found it really useful to assign a buddy pupil to AV1 to make sure that it was charged each evening and put in place each morning. This buddy sat next to AV1 and notified the teacher when the pupil was on line or if they had their virtual hand up to contribute to the discussion.
Obviously, shielding or a hospital stay is an ideal use for this technology but I would have found it useful for a pupil who was a school refuser.
It removes barriers from returning to school because it is halfway in between. If a pupil covers some of the work while they are at home it prevents them from becoming more anxious about falling behind their peers. Sometimes school refusal can be because of issues with peers which cannot be properly resolved without the pupil in school but I feel that AV1 could be used by a pupil to work on building social interactions in a non- threatening way for the pupil.
I am sure there are other uses that you can think of when you think about certain pupils that you have or have had in your class."
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