Colleges and training providers have adapted in positive and innovative ways to continue learning and support the local community during the Covid-19 crisis.

Here, FE Week shares some examples, including hospital donations, virtual horticulture, cooking and mental health classes, as well as zumba!


Care apprentices praised as they step up to new responsibilities

Care apprentices in the Midlands have been deployed to care homes to alleviate pressure on nurses during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Two hundred and fifty health and social care apprentices from private provider GB Training, some of whom are fresh out of school, have been armed with face masks, more facilities for handwashing and sterilising, and updated infection control training, to take on even greater responsibilities.

At The Chimes Residential care home in Stoke-on-Trent, elderly people have been isolated to their rooms and professional visitors are not being allowed past reception, so level 3 lead adult care worker apprentices have had to carry out tasks usually fulfilled by district nurses, including taking diabetics’ blood sugar levels.

Taherabanu Rajabali Level 2 Health and Social Care Apprentice IHI Care Services Birmingham

The home’s care manager, Julie Davey, said how “very proud” she was of her team, especially the apprentices as they are “stepping up to the bar and learning the necessary skills to keep giving the vital care that older people need”.

The district nurses, she said, have given the apprentices an “A* for all they have learned in these uncertain times”.

Tracey Bradley, an apprentice working at a care home in Birmingham, said it had been “very stressful”, but they have “no choice” as the learners both know the people and care for them “deeply”.

“That we’d do all we can to help protect them goes without question,” she said, adding it was “rewarding” to be using skills and training she had learned to protect people, particularly when they are some of those most at risk from this “horrible disease”.

At Awarding Care, 92-year-old resident Stella Powell has given her thanks to level 2 apprentices “for your kindness and dedication. Not only now, but always”.

“You’ve become more than carers – you’re friends to us too. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem enough.”

But it’s not just the apprentices who are helping health services during this pandemic: a tutor at GB Training, Gemma Smith, has been contacted by a hospital she worked at for several years to request she join an emergency list in case of a lockdown in the UK.

The provider said despite the challenges and the anxieties, many of the apprentices are working overtime to cover fluctuating staff shortages, and morale remains high.

Managing director Lawrence Barton expressed his and his whole organisation’s pride in seeing the apprentices “rise to the additional challenges placed upon them”.

“Our apprentices are serving on the front line in the struggle against this pandemic and helping to save lives. In a number of cases, they find themselves caring for and protecting some of the most vulnerable in our society, many of whom are the same age as their grandparents.”

PICTURED ABOVE: GB Training Health and Social Care apprentices receive 90 bunches of flowers donated by Marks & Spencers for both residents and carers as a gesture of gratitude for their hard work


Training provider gives entire charity fund to community groups

An independent training provider has donated more than £20,000 to an emergency coronavirus fund.

Learning Curve Group handed over the entirety of its charity foundation’s balance to help front-line community groups and local charities working to ease the pressure on those worst affected by the pandemic in County Durham.

Chief executive Brenda McLeish said: “People are at the centre of everything we do, so we’ve made an important decision to change the pillars upon which our fund was established with the aim of supporting those who are in need of funds more than ever.

“As changes are announced daily, we are committed to supporting the local community in whatever way we can.”

The County Durham Community Foundation has set up the County Durham Covid-19 Response Fund to help community groups survive during this period, and the Learning Curve Group Charity Foundation was one of the fund’s founding supporters.

Learning Curve Group HQ

The money will be spent on a range of activities. For example, £5 will go towards a hot dinner for an older person self-isolating.

In addition, £10 may be spent on purchasing items for a food bank and £20 could buy fuel to help a volunteer deliver meals on wheels. Larger sums of £50 will support volunteers from groups based in village halls calling elderly people in self-isolation, while £100 could keep the lights on for a community group.

Chief executive of County Durham Community Foundation, Michelle Cooper, said: “The situation is becoming more serious as each hour passes, and we cannot afford to wait around. We are devoting all of our time and energy into supporting our local grassroots groups, which in turn will bolster our communities.

“Illness, isolation, loneliness and poverty are very real in County Durham and Darlington right now, and exasperated by the spread of Covid-19: but if we work together we can provide support to the life-changing local community services that will lessen the blow.”


Wellbeing coach called in to keep apprentices motivated

An independent training provider has drafted in a mental health and wellbeing coach to keep apprentices motivated in their studies during the crisis.

Amazing Apprenticeships have launched a series of webinars for employers and providers who are trying to support their apprentices while facing their own challenges.

Director Anna Morrison said: “We have received an overwhelming response from the sector.

“We’re building a real sense of community and everyone is so positive about helping and supporting each other.”

The provider has partnered with Gen Healthy Minds and one of its coaches, George Anderson, to provide content for the sessions. Anderson has 20 years’ experience in the fitness and wellbeing industry and his Facebook group ‘On the wagon’ has more than 5,000 members.

He said: “Never before has there been a more important time to teach resilience, wellbeing and mental health management techniques.

“I’m delighted to be delivering this series of online masterclasses to a group of individuals who have the potential to influence large numbers of apprentices.”

Around 300 participants from across the country took part in the first webinar on Wednesday and 500 have registered for the next masterclass on Monday.

Mike Thompson, a managing partner at Gen Healthy Minds, said: “Mental health and wellbeing of apprentices must be our number one priority right now and the team at Gen Healthy Minds will help employers and providers in whatever way we can.”

Many of the providers participating in the webinars have been supporting apprentices in the NHS as well as those working in food production and distribution.

The programme is free to join and is being funded by Amazing Apprenticeships.

The provider has also set up a LinkedIn group to encourage sharing of best practice, ideas and support.


York College gives protective gear to local hospital staff

York College has donated almost 800 pieces of personal protective equipment to its local hospital to help battle against shortages brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

A range of masks, gloves, overalls and safety glasses, which are usually in stock for use by construction, engineering and stonemasonry students, have been handed to the York Teaching Hospital Trust.

York College principal Lee Probert said: “Since we’ve moved to online delivery only, we decided that these should be given to front-line staff in the NHS who are saving lives.”

His college’s childcare students and staff have also been called upon to volunteer in some of the city’s childcare centres that are stretched for staff, while other employees are being encouraged to join voluntary groups in the community if they wish to do so.

Probert added: “I’ve acknowledged that whilst we’re working in this brave new way not all staff will be able to work as productively at home as they could do if the college was open, and empowered people to sign up for the city’s volunteering effort, if they feel able to do so.”

York Colleges PPE donation

He also said that the college is going through its food stocks to donate goods due to expire in the coming weeks and months to food banks in the area.

“These are items which we might have to write off if we’re not open in the traditional sense for a significant length of time.

“We know that food bank stocks are becoming depleted and we’d rather they had it to put to good use than it be wasted.”

For its own students, York College is live-streaming interactive lessons in all curriculum areas every day.

Probert praised his staff for creating “hundreds” of online lessons and resources and “working really hard to ensure students’ successes”.

They have also been asked to stay in touch with learners to ensure they are not isolated and are in the “best possible position to engage with whatever system for awarding qualifications emerges”.

Daily remote enrichment programmes and quizzes are also being organised for the staff.


Online cooking could prove the recipe for happy students

A college in Merseyside has been using technology to stream live cooking demos, host competitions and offer pastoral support as they adapt to teaching in isolation.

Level 1 hospitality students at Hugh Baird College’s L20 Hotel School have been recreating dishes made by chef lecturers at home.

On Monday, level 1 students learned how to poach eggs as part of a remote breakfast lesson.

Steve Otty, curriculum co-ordinator, told FE Week the outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in a “rethink” of delivering methods, with the hospitality team embracing online teaching.

He said: “This has been a little challenging due to the very nature of vocational training. At college we have industry standard kitchens, a range of different ingredients and obviously we’re able to work more closely with learners.

“But it has been great fun and the learners have enjoyed the experience.”

L20 Hotel School’s learners have also taken part in an online student competition where they were challenged to upload a picture of the “most unusual” food item in their cupboards at home.

Nikolas Arnaudov, a 16-year-old who is studying for a level 1 VRQ Diploma in professional cooking, was victorious with Bulgarian pastries his mother had made while on lockdown.

Otty said the use of live group chats had resulted in “positive” student contributions and “improved” collaboration within groups.

He added: “It has been key that we have continued to engage and communicate with learners.

“I think that continuing with their course online has helped to lift their spirits and has kept their minds focused.”

Andy Howard, one of the college’s directors, also devised a way for Microsoft Teams software to offer emotional support to students during this period.

A tiered framework has been introduced to enable check-ins on learners and prompt further engagement if there are any concerns.

He said: “Planning the pastoral support is just as vital for our students as the academic delivery, if not more so.”

Principal Rachael Hennigan added: “I could not be prouder of all our staff at the college.

“Their response to an unprecedented situation has been sensational.”


‘Virtual College’ ethos accelerated to minimise social isolation

A college with over 30,000 learners has not missed a step in moving services like horticulture lessons and mental health support online during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Weston College principal Paul Phillips commended his “tremendous staff” for their work in mobilising their digital strategy during the crisis, saying tutors have actually increased their interaction with students since the campus closed on Friday.

The college has developed a portfolio of courses, such as digital skills and mental health wellbeing, to upskill employees and members of the local community at home, and said it is continuing to get requests from employers who are looking to use the lockdown to help boost their workers’ skills while they are homeworking.

Emma Wilkinson a digital marketing apprentice at Weston College

The team of digital educators and developers at the college have helped build a digital learning culture at the college over the past two years, with the help of £565,000 from the Department for Education’s Flexible Learning Fund, which was used to train staff in techniques like video presentations.

Phillips says it was “clear” the digital strategy was not just about creating online learning, but also creating a strategy that would ensure the virtual classroom was “outstanding” and that “social isolation is minimised, that motivation is maximised, and that mental health support is embedded holistically”.

To that end, the college has also rolled out “body and mind” physical and wellbeing activities for groups of learners, as well as sessions like watching Netflix together and sharing a break for tea.

But it is not just students getting a digital helping hand during these times: Phillips is also running regular briefings over the internet with colleagues “to keep morale high”.

He has urged other principals to do the same, saying: “Encourage staff to digitally innovate to keep students engaged in education and use their virtual community as a mechanism to reduce self-isolation and to improve mental health, and success will come from a ground-up approach.”

The #myvirtualcollege hashtag has also been launched by Weston to capture best practice, ideas and suggestions for the future.


East Durham staff step in to keep farm ticking over

The coronavirus has not prevented East Durham College from caring for the livestock on its farm, with staff stepping in where students left off.

The college has a 24-horse yard, 200 sheep and an animal care unit which houses ‘Wrinkles’ the giant tortoise as well as wallabies.

Its Houghall Campus is set in around 500 acres of arable, grazing and woodland. Lindsay Haggis, director of landbased studies, told FE Week: “The farm is ticking away absolutely brilliantly.

“I guess the disappointing thing is the learners would have been here to see it all and that is the opportunities that they are missing at the moment.”

She said the equine lecturing team had “pulled out all the stops” the week before the college closed to ensure that learners had completed the practical assessments required to achieve their qualifications.

Staff have been using Facebook and Microsoft Teams to keep learners updated with what their favourite horses are up to as well as providing information on how Covid-19 is impacting the industry.

Yard manger Kate Lee and her team of four have been following a rota to take care of the horses and ensure they will be ready for when the students return.

Wrinkles the giant sulcata tortoise

Most agriculture, animal management and foundation learners had the opportunity to get involved with the lambing season before closure but the college’s suckler herd of native cattle have just started calving, with three born so far and another 27 on the way.

Haggis said: “Luckily the farm staff always take the time to take a snap or two so we can share these events with the learners.”

Similarly, level 3 agriculture students had managed to complete their ploughing assessments before classes ended.

Haggis added: “While it’s a shame the learners didn’t get to follow this up with drilling, they will see the fruits of their labours when they return for year two and get on with harvest.”

The director also stressed it is “very much business as usual” in the animal care unit, with senior animal care technician Imogen Wright training giant sulcata tortoise Wrinkles as well as looking after the rest of the animals, which include wallabies and raccoons.


College leader zooms in on fitness for colleagues

A college senior leader by day and dance instructor by night is running free online classes to keep her colleagues active during Covid-19.

Tracy Round-Turner, assistant principal for young people at West London College, has been a dance instructor for eight years, having previously danced professionally with the likes of Mr Motivator and on Blue Peter, and now teaches disciplines like Zumba and her own dance fitness hybrid.

Once her regular community class in Wimbledon had to stop due to the government restrictions, she moved the classes online through the video conferencing platform Zoom.

Zumba with Tracy

On top of her regular attendees, many of whom are NHS workers, she decided to advertise it to staff from her college to “help keep them active and build a sense of online community”.

Round-Turner said: “I think isolation can be scary, and it is important to reach out to each other and feel connected.

“I’m hoping the staff of the college will get involved and join me to shake their cares away and take some time to feel good about themselves.”

She taught her first online class on Monday – ‘Monday Motivation’, featuring Zumba and another discipline called ViBeatz, from 8pm to 9pm.

And last night, she ran a class called ‘Burn It Up’, which involved high-intensity interval training, and helped core strength and balance.

On top of that, Round-Turner is also offering a 20 to 30 minute yoga stretch session each day around lunchtime to “help those that have been sat in front of their screens all morning to remember the importance of resting their eyes and re-aligning their bodies and minds and re-energise them for the afternoon ahead”.

She sees this as an opportunity for people to get even fitter than they were before the lockdown, saying: “I think we should learn from this and think more about employee wellbeing – which we’ve been quite slow to do in this country.”

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