lessons from lockdown: aberlour’s learning service nourishes education that thrives on choice and discovery


aberlour learning education lockdown

We believe the act of learning is a personal experience for each child. Despite the challenges of lockdown, young people in our residential houses became empowered to take ownership of their education and learning. 

Over the last year and a half, young people in Scotland faced persistent disruptions to their education due to COVID-19. Online classes, absences due to isolation and changes to exam schedules saw many young people struggling to engage with their learning. 

Aberlour’s Learning Service works with children in our residential houses helping them to progress in their education and achieve their potential. We aim to help young people recognise their talents and abilities, become agents in their learning and plan for their future. 

In March 2020, the onset of lockdown presented unique and unforeseen challenges for our residential houses. The children and young people in our care are all at different stages in their learning journeys. Some attend school full-time, while others are disengaged, struggling to attend school, and need extra support. 

At first, some young people told us they struggled with the loss of structure and routine that regular school learning brought them. As lockdown persisted, many young people missed seeing their friends every day and learning with their peers. 

Our immediate response was to avoid pressuring the children into carrying on with schoolwork as usual, as we knew there would be a period of adjustment. Our focus shifted to how we support the children emotionally and educationally through an unprecedented global crisis. 

As we strived to nurture a loving and emotionally supportive environment in the children’s houses, the young people had the space to explore what learning conditions worked best for them. Young people’s anxieties about schoolwork reduced, with a more relaxed atmosphere in the houses. 

We empowered our young people to take ownership of their education and learn at their own pace. Staff would offer the opportunity to do schoolwork; if there was no interest in this, young people could participate in other activities, including board games, quizzes, arts and crafts, or exercise. We found that letting them naturally decide what interested them resulted in greater voluntary engagement in subjects or activities they would have previously resisted doing. They had the power to discover what time of day they worked best and do what interested them. It also gave them a chance to explore hobbies and interests and find their strengths. 

We were incredibly proud of the progress our young people made, as well as their ability to adapt and flourish under uncertainty. Children who previously struggled to complete their schoolwork started to do schoolwork independently and ask for support when they needed it. Many of our young people learned to manage their workload when they had the agency to work and learn at a pace that suited them. This change is in direct contrast to before lockdown, where some of children required full-time 1-1 support to help them engage with their school day. There have been instances where children completed more work during lockdown than they previously did at school. 

We believe the act of learning is a personal experience for every child. Our experiences during lockdown shone a light on the different ways in which children learn, demonstrating the traditional format of learning in school couldn’t meet the needs of all children.  

Our experiences inspired us to begin a review of our Learning Service. We listened to young people’s views, explored all their learning needs, and considered alternatives ways to support the young people based on their own learning journeys.  

We have championed choice in the Learning Service, even before lockdown. We believe that every child should have the chance to progress and achieve. The initial impact of COVID-19 on school learning was not easy for the young people in our residential houses. However, despite challenges, we created a home-centred learning space, supported by staff where young people thrived through choice and discovery. As we advance, we take pride in supporting young people to take an active role in fulfilling their ambitions. The children and young people in our care will continue to receive guidance and support and from adults and other learning professionals when they need it.