Stockton Poverty Truth Commission- Stockton Sixth Form response to COVID-19

Over the last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Poverty Truth Commission have still been continuously talking to community members of Teesside, whether it be through our social media sites, zoom calls, emails or phone calls.

Conversations surrounding home-schooling and education have shown to be diverse and varied, with both positive and negative reactions to school and colleges responses to COVID-19 in Stockton-On-Tees. 

Some prevalent issues raised have been The digital divide and home-schooling.

The Poverty Truth approach aims to merge levels of expertise and create conversations between civic and business leaders, as well as community members of Teesside. We felt it was important to raise some of these questions to a representative of a school or college in the area. 

We reached out to Stockton Sixth Form College to relay some questions raised from our community. 

Does your college have measures in place for children and families who are not online/do not have access to the internet? If so, what are they?

Like you rightly say, it’s a lot easier to try and engage with the ones who have access to the internet and we currently run a vast array of platforms such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to promote the college both for fun and to obviously deliver educational content. We also have an excellent online year 11 website and online chat forums.

However, for those students who find themselves disadvantaged there are a number of things we have done during this global crisis to assist their learning:

We have dropped numerous laptops and ipads off into the community, so students have access to IT provision, dropped books and activities off and posted information out. We also have some online forums in some subjects running on Facebook as this doesn’t need the internet to access with resources uploaded.  Very few students have not engaged in working from home during this very difficult period but obviously some have adapted better than others. As a senior leader and the person responsible for dropping technology and ‘old school methods’ off to students I feel it has worked particularly well or as well as can be expected- that is certainly the feedback I have received from the students in need and from parents of these students.

In addition but not linked to online technology issues the College moved quickly to make sure students requiring free school meals received this money weekly into their accounts and the feedback from students and families has been extremely positive on this matter including the colleges paying students through holiday periods, which not all schools and colleges have done, but was the right thing to do for our communities.


What impact do you think that COVID-19 has had on student’s learning?

It’s very difficult to tell at this moment in time, as all students learning needs are different, however there are some students who are nervous now due to the fact they have lost that face to face contact with teaching staff and as a result feel that they may have fallen behind with their studies.

In order to combat this, Students are spoken to regularly via chats, emails and phone calls where 121s take place and on the whole the vast majority are developing their home skills. Obviously not the same amount of content can be covered at one go online but smaller chunks of learning are delivered with tasks linked, so students don’t get overwhelmed. Student testing is one question that keeps coming up, as tests from home are something that can have less reliability when collecting data as a college in terms of where students are at with their progress. Some students you won’t be surprised are speaking to staff daily which is more than when they were actually at College but for some (small numbers) there are more hiding places. The college is certainly not seeing or hearing of huge disengagement that some primary and secondary settings are suggesting.

On the flip side it is also worth considering the impact on Teachers and sharing resources with parents and guardians to aid their home teaching. Staff are continually getting CPD at the moment as they are constantly trialling new technologies, apps and website’s and incorporating these into their teaching and sharing on social media- Biology students have also been busy upskilling. A student recently discovered a virtual field trip app and shared this with staff so it’s a two way process as ever! Companies and Universities have also been great during this time period and sent lots of freebies to aid students learning such as the fabulous UCAT practise website which is now free for 6 months has also been passed on to the medics in Year 12. Universities are also doing virtual tours to aid students learning after some mixed messages and advertising regarding purely online courses which some students are interpreting as a negative on their proposed university experience. This is a difficult topic to advise on as some students are having second thoughts on their chosen Universities. It is the Colleges’ advice that students and families liaise with Universities on this matter. 


Do you think this impact will have a lasting affect?

 A very tough question to answer online but the College is extremely proactive and already planning many different models of learning, timetables and assessments for September.

In my opinion one thing that will have a lasting affect is the online learning. In the future not all lessons may be face to face and these virtual lessons will be embedded into weekly lessons in the way that flipped learning should be delivered. Students watch a lesson out of college and get the full understanding of the topics in class like a seminar at University.

Apologies if I got side tracked above, in answer to your question I hope the impact is more positive than negative. Hopefully students have had lots of time to reflect and as a result are more focussed on their learning when we return to the ‘norm’. I just hope that any disadvantaged students have not been disadvantaged any more than any other student- we have certainly done our best to support and accommodate all students starting with the disadvantaged ones first over the last three months.


What support do you offer to parents struggling with home-schooling their children?

As a leader of the College I have been in regular communication with parents regarding their child’s progress and shared lots of research and ideas via the phone and email. The college uses social media well (in my opinion) and has lots of learning material hints and tips for students, teachers and parents and not just for marketing and liaison purposes. I hope parents feel as confident as students do in talking to us. I empathise for parents and guardians who have suddenly been thrown into home schooling. 

On another note, the College is still running and recommending where necessary the counselling scheme to support mental wellbeing and providing online videos and resources to aid students who are not coping well with learning from home. 121s with staff seem to be having a positive affect and because staff are aware of vulnerable students we can act swiftly. The pastoral side of the College is outstanding and runs in all lessons and through tutorials each week.


Do you have any thoughts on the government’s strategy for education regarding the corona virus?

WOW- we have to try and get back to ‘normal’ as stated above, so I understand why we are trying. Students will have had around five months of none classroom interactive learning if we don’t try before the summer break- therefore there will be some lost knowledge or gaps here. Especially at the younger ages where parents may not feel confident or be able to home school as well as others and therefore huge differences may be more obvious compared to students who have opted to come to sixth form and do lots of independent work anyway.  The College is developing a progression package for year 11 and 12 students to aid their learning so when face to face learning does come back recaps will be essential to get all students back up to speed and interventions placed alongside these.

Jonathan Newton

Assistant Principal

Are you a Teacher, Lecturer or work in Education? SPTC would love to hear how your School/College/University has been tackling some of these issues during these turbulent times.

If you’d like to answer these questions, get in touch below.



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