Education Provider Voice 8

Kirstin Coughtrie – Founder of Online School, GeoVLE

Kirstin Coughtrie is a teacher, tutor and mum to three children. Through her innovative, self-directed, democratic, online school, GeoVLE , she aims to empower learners to take their studies anywhere (literally and figuratively).

She wanted to create a platform to bring together the most highly skilled, empathic tutors and disruptive edtech to offer online tuition in a brand new way to empower and inspire home educating families and parents wishing to supplement their children’s school education. She wants to offer her colleagues the opportunity to have flexible, impactful careers.

Can you tell us about the GeoVLE approach?

Our main principle is to evolve an inspiring, bespoke, on demand learning environment that is relevant and engaging and makes positive change in the world.

We want both educator and student curiosity and enjoyment to be paramount; boosted by new teaching pedagogies, ed-tech software, real-time online tuition and gamification, setting them free from the boundaries of the classroom walls.

The human dimension remains at the heart of everything we do; inspiring and mentoring students to be lifelong learners and co-creators of the future of their education.

Live classes for KS1 and KS2:
To encourage learners to think critically, creatively and sensitively about the world’s most pressing problems, we offer live classes every day. Theme-based around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, these small group classes inspire children to be creative, curious, busy and independent, and to question and ponder the world around them.

For example, a recent topic has been water; if children want to join the science class, they will learn about underwater ecosystems, and if they join the writing class, they may write a poem about ocean creatures. You can join as many classes as you want each week or sign up to a weekly homeschool package to make it cheaper.

Our prices are per family, so that siblings can join in together as well as parents, if they want to! We’ve found homeschooling parents are often keen to join in with their children to structure their day, get ideas and feedback from a range of experienced teachers and, especially during lockdown, have collaboration and friendships for their children.

Some families simply use the resources on our VLE and drop into live sessions occasionally. With the subscription, all the activities are recorded so you can fit them into your reschedule on catch up too! Craft sessions encourage children to recycle and use only what they have around the house (with parent permission of course!) This inspires sustainable citizenship and we always incorporate games in an inclusive environment.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE):
We’ve also put all our interactive resources on a custom made VLE where students can interact and continue discussions and get video feedback on their assignments in their own time. We typically have between 4 and 8 students in a session, and because we use a subscription model, we get to know the learners well and can tailor sessions to their interests. Our history tutor wrote an article about how her sessions have evolved to allow learners to take the lead.

Leveling the playing field:
GeoVLE is a platform for learning in an equal opportunities environment. All you need is an internet enabled computer or tablet with video and microphone to join the live lessons. We hope that in the future libraries and community centres might be locations where students can go to access our classes as well as from their own homes if they have the facilities.

We’d like to offer classes to students who may need to be in hospital or out of school for a short while to still access education in a fun and unpressured way. We warmly invite families who would benefit from our services, who are currently unable to afford the subscription, to contact us as we firmly believe that every child should have the same opportunities to access our classes.

How we teach Sustainable Development Goals:

Zero Hunger

Clean Water and Sanitation

Affordable and Clean Energy

Life on Land

Study Groups give bespoke support and encourage self direction in KS3, 4 and 5:

Our tutors at GeoVLE offer homework study sessions and independent learning support for children of all ages over Zoom. Our homework study sessions are geared towards helping a small group of children with their schoolwork when local lockdowns mean that they haven’t got such easy access to their teachers or peers. In addition to personalised tuition, small group study sessions encourage independence – these are all about teaching students how to structure their days and use online tools to support their learning during the times that they aren’t in direct communication with their teachers.

A platform to enable metacognition and collaboration:

All our tutors support many of our students 1:1 and are very good at preparing them for GCSE and A Level exams, but our aim at GeoVLE is to go far beyond that, equipping students with skills that will make them adaptive in the future, whatever that may look like. In order to do that, our tutors take on a mentoring and coaching role, facilitating independence and metacognitive thought processes through the use of our VLE and peer assessment. With the support of the Advanced Learning Technologies Lab, we have embedded peerScholar into our VLE. “The peerScholar peer assessment tool enables students to provide constructive feedback on each others’ work and facilitates critical reflection on how they might improve their own work.” []

Aiming for independence and global collaboration:

Our pricing gets cheaper over time as it is based on moving learners towards independence and away from the need for tutors and direct instruction, towards support from the VLE and peer collaboration.

Tutor CPD and parental involvement:

Our team meets weekly to share ideas and ways to support individuals we are working with. All our sessions are recorded and we adopt a lesson study approach to continually reflect on and improve our practice. Online tutoring is a rapidly evolving pedagogy and we put time into honing this new craft in collaboration with continuous feedback from our students and parents. Our VLE allows parents to observe all interactions between tutors and their child and we encourage their involvement and partnership in an open, inclusive environment.

As corporate members of The Tutors’ Association, all our tutors are DBS checked and have signed the code of ethics. We have also completed the NSPCC course for Keeping Children Safe Online and embed this within our VLE and all our courses.

Why are you interested in progressive education?

GeoVLE is committed to being part of the solution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4​ “Quality Education” to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. According to the UN:

“Rapid technological changes present opportunities and challenges, but the learning environment, the capacities of teachers and the quality of education have not kept pace. Refocused efforts are needed to improve learning outcomes for the full life cycle, especially for women, girls and marginalized people in vulnerable settings.”

​At GeoVLE we believe in education for the many and the few. We attempt to level the playing field by offering disadvantaged students free small group tuition. The confidence brought about by personalised learning, knowing a child’s strengths, worries and talents should be available to every child, not just those whose parents can afford private education or tutoring.

In your opinion what are the main challenges of our current state school system?

Recruiting passionate teachers and then not killing that passion they have for teaching. The current system attempts a one size fits all attitude and then demands the teacher adapts this model to the needs of sometimes thirty plus students. Clearly this is unmanageable and the teacher then finds themselves at odds with the system.

When the system works well, it provides a service that still doesn’t prepare the student for the world of work but rather for further academic achievement, which is fine but how many academics do we really need?

What do the grades for our academic qualifications really tell us about the individual and their readiness for the workplace or even, in some cases, for their next step in their academic journey? They are a snapshot in time that reflect the individual’s ability to recall facts and sometimes, depending on the skill of the examiner, use those facts in a novel form.

So the examination tells us a few things:

  • It is a snapshot of knowledge retained at that time.
  • It shows (possibly) a level of cognitive development (depending on the quality of the question).
  • It shows the ability to retain information (possibly long term but more likely short term).
  • It shows the individual’s ability to cope with the examination.

The system is not only failing to deliver but is fundamentally broken. The undeniable truth is that, for the majority of students, it is unfit for purpose and doesn’t prepare students for the modern world of work. It also very quickly disenfranchises vulnerable or neurodiverse children, as their learning needs tend to require a lot more than the system can provide, and tend to require more emotional and individualised support. It worked well for a large number of students when the future was more predictable and the rate of change in industry and society was at a slower pace.

We do not know what the future will bring, we do not know the demands of tomorrow and we do not know what the jobs of tomorrow will be. We need individuals that are able to quickly adapt to the rapid changes in our society, that are emotionally resilient and aware, and that are able to think about and approach their work in the most inclusive, constructive and efficient way possible. This demands lateral thinkers and problem solvers to which the current system does not necessarily create or nurture.

What are state schools doing well?

Creating data.

If you could make changes to the state education system, what would be your top priorities?

Create safe spaces where students can interact with each other, have a voice in their local communities, play sports, be creative and get a hot meal. Vitally, these spaces should have access to the most up to date, reliable internet technologies where students, irrespective of their postcodes, can access the best subject and industry experts, mentors and coaches to guide their on-demand, bespoke education in areas they are interested in and for which future businesses have demand.

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