‘Avatar army’ continues to help pupils access education when they cannot attend in person

A revolutionary scheme to help more children and young people access education has been so successful, it has helped twelve local pupils back into the classroom.

Three Avatars sitting on Southend pier on a sunny day

A revolutionary scheme to help more children and young people access education has been so successful, it has helped twelve local pupils back into the classroom.

The Avatars, which are fully funded through the Governments dedicated schools grant, has now had two years of ‘avatar army’ success in Southend-on-Sea. The AV1 robots continue to help children and young people remotely access real-time classes, allowing them to interact with their peers and reduce social isolation often attributed with time out of school.This is instead of having a dedicated tutor, which wouldn’t allow for any interaction with their peers or teachers during class teaching time and can be more costly over a period of time.

In 2020 the council invested some of its dedicated schools grant in 25 AV1s, which are mini-robots, designed to help students who may not be able to go to school or be in a classroom environment because of medical reasons.

Since then, demand has seen 10 more bought, with a further 15 which have now arrived, making 50 in total. This will give even more opportunities to support the children and young people who need them. The 2021/22 academic year saw 46 students use the AV1’s to access education. Twelve of those students have now fully re-joined full-time education at their school, and many are still in use as part of their reintegration plan.

The AV1s are loaned out to schools, following a recommendation from the council’s education access team. Schools can also rent the avatar’s directly from the council to support early intervention and school inclusion.

Cllr Laurie Burton, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “The avatars are an innovative solution to allow students to still attend class when they can’t attend in person. For example, this might be because they are medically unable, such as recovering from a broken leg, or because of a mental health issue such as anxiety, which might prevent them from being in a classroom through use of the schools inclusion strategies the AV1 can support a reintegration plan back into the classroom.

“The robot takes the place of the student in the classroom while the student interacts via a tablet at home in real-time. It can be used as a short-term measure or for a longer term if necessary. While it is always best for students to be in their class with their peers, it is good to know there is an alternative available if it is needed. It is great to see the positive outcomes and impact that these are having and that the investment we have made through the dedicated schools grant is paying off for local children and young people.”

One Southend School said: “Our Year 10 misses a lot of school due to their social, emotional and mental health need (SEMH) and they struggle to get into school some days. The Avatar has allowed them access to lessons enabling them to continue with their learning. They were able to ask questions about the work and get immediate response. The interactive nature of the robot allows them to be included and we hope will break some of the cycle that builds on to their anxieties.”

The same school also has another student in need of the AV1 due to being in hospital at the time. The school explained: “Another year 10 who was in hospital needed the support of their friends and the social interaction to help them manage their social, emotional and mental health need (SEMH). The specialist staff have welcomed the robot idea as brilliant way to reconnect with school and inspire them to return. They started off socialising with specific friends and now has selected several subject lessons to support the education provided by the unit.

Another school shared one of their experiences about a student in year 7 with a visual impairment and medical needs. The school said: “The student had to shield at home and was very upset not to return to school using the Avatar allowed them to access lessons and socialise with their friends at lunchtime, this eased some of the anxieties about missing out. The avatar allowed them to interact in class with both their teachers and peers.An example of this is a PE lesson, where they were able to work within a group on a dance performance and provide peer assessment.”

Published: 16th March 2023

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