Additional contextualised information for UCAS references – A Level department

Under normal circumstances, teaching of A Level subjects at Harlow College involves two long sessions per week: a three-hour session one morning and a two- to three-hour session one afternoon on a different day. As such, a learner receives between five and six hours of contact time with their teacher per subject per week. 

Progression onto their new A Level programme in the academic year 2020 started later than usual for the A Level learners at Harlow College, with the first day of teaching being Monday 14th September. This was to allow additional time for implementing plans for the return of both staff and learners to campus, whilst also completing the more time-consuming processes of online enrolment for all learners. Since starting their A levels in September 2020, the current Year 13 cohort have not only experienced a number of lockdowns (both government directed and due to in-college COVID cases), resulting in the need to work extensively online in their first year, but also reduced contact time when classes were able to run onsite; in order to reduce the total number of learners on campus, A Level classes only ran on site for the morning sessions, with afternoon sessions being delivered in a remote manner. In addition, where class numbers are too large to permit social distancing in the classroom, some learners partook in the morning classroom sessions online, with rotas being employed to track which individuals had lessons in a remote manner each week. For the largest classes, groups were halved and learners got an onsite lesson every other week for that subject. Currently, these learners are experiencing another week of online learning (starting Monday 20th September 2021) following a pocket of positive COVID cases in the department. 

For all online lessons, teachers endeavour to adapt sessions, and associated teaching resources, to enable learners to engage with the syllabus in a distance learning capacity. This has involved many teachers having to learn new platforms for delivery whilst trying to keep learners engaged with the new style of teaching, in addition to assessing how well learners were coping with the mental health pressures of lockdown. This skill development is ongoing, with the recognition that there are always new and innovative resources and activities that can be included, but these take time to learn, develop for teaching, and integrate effectively into lessons. 

For subjects that require practical activities (the three A level sciences, Media, Photography, Art), issues with decontaminating equipment used by learners put significant constraints on completing these practical activities. For equipment that cannot be cleaned using wipes or sprays, it needed to be left for a minimum of 72hours, as per the CLEAPSS guidance, thus reducing the frequency it could be utilised by learners and impacting on the rate at which certain practical activities could be completed. As such, there is significant pressure on these subjects to complete the missed practicals sessions in their second year to ensure all elements of the syllabus are covered.

An additional constraint is the fact that, in order to limit the number of learners on campus, individuals were not allowed to come to college outside of their timetabled classes to utilise facilities to support their progression on programme.

These measures were employed by Harlow College to meet government COVID-19 guidance for FE institutions whilst also reducing the chances of a large-scale outbreak, which would result in all sessions being delivered remotely. Although this policy maximised the chances of continued onsite teaching, it is clear that such measures created repercussions for the learning process; staff reported that they were proceeding through the syllabus at a slower rate than under normal conditions and learners were receiving less direct attention throughout all sessions, whether onsite or online. This means staff are now endeavouring to cover the additional topics in the second year to ensure learners are not disadvantaged going into the exams Summer series. Despite these challenges, learners and staff alike have reported that they appreciated the policies designed to keep them safe, including the break in online delivery currently being employed to limit the spread of infections, and all recognise the desire to ensure onsite sessions can continue, even if in a reduced capacity.