Education is one arena that has suffered greatly throughout the 2020 Pandemic.
Here, experienced practitioner Scott Biggs explores the industry looking at the challenges that will be faced in the sector going forward.
“Education has always been a given in our lifetime in the UK. There has rarely been a time when schools were closed and children could not access education. However, with the recent impact of the 2020 pandemic, the education profession has had to be resilient alongside public key workers.
“Teachers have faced over 30 different guidance documents and announcements since February, with over 100 coronavirus updates for the sector, meaning teams have had to be agile to tick the right boxes. Many of these updates happened days before the new term, which caused a frantic reactive challenge for a sector that is well known for proactive planning.
“It has been great testament to the entire sector that this guidance was developed and put into practice so quickly to keep pupils and staff safe. The resounding agreement is that despite what unions say, staff just want to do their jobs!
“Even though each school is unique with its own priorities, each one is passionate about helping children and if staff have to rethink certain logistics to do that, then we will. But for now, there are clearly three large challenges that we face.
“Firstly, we have to tackle the learning lost during Lockdown 1.0. During this time, schools had to quickly create sessions that children could access online or create work booklets to be sent home.
“Schools had to assume most parents would support their children if the information and methods were distributed by the schools. There was of course, no guarantee that the work was being implemented correctly at home.
“And on return to the classroom there were varying numbers and restrictions imposed which had an impact on the quality of lessons being taught.
“Studies now show there is around a 3 month delay to where the children are relative to where they should have been. The challenge now is to ensure that our children ‘make up’ for this lost time.
“To tackle this, primary schools have redesigned timetables to focus on each pupil’s core learning in maths, reading and writing to speed up progression and close the gap. But to balance that and to ensure the children aren’t rushed, there needs to be a long term planning structure, constant analysis, assessments and an approach that acknowledges that there are no quick fixes to correcting the loss of education.
“The second challenge lies in providing ongoing remote learning for children who need to isolate due to infection or exposure to a Covid-infected individual. Teachers are expected to have immediate solutions for these children to continue their learning from home for up to 14 days; sometimes longer if multiple infections affect a family.
“The DfE have expectations that include the provision of high quality online tools, video’s, educational resources and other online resources. Offline tools are also expected to be provided including printed resources, textbooks and workbooks for those who do not have online access or are too young to undertake online access without full parental interaction.
“Planned, well sequenced curriculum assignments with clear explanations are important along with a regular gauging of how well the pupils are progressing. Schools are having to ensure teachers are able to adjust the pace or difficulty of what is being taught, and it must be acknowledged that this creates a level of work that means these teachers need their own support from senior leaders, head teachers, heads of year and bodies including Ofsted.
“Investment in technology is needed, alongside clear expectations to be set for each child. Teachers should have options available to them and should use informed personalised planning. The schools which are the most successful at this have invested in interactive platforms such as Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams and have a policy in place outlining teacher to pupil expectations, along with the offered support and guidance from DfE and Ofsted.
“The third and currently most discussed challenge is of course in managing mental health and wellbeing for pupils, staffs and the wider education community. The emotional rollercoaster of the pandemic has affected us all, and it is critical that school leaders acknowledge the impact not just on pupils but on staff.
“Many have suffered losses, experienced the disease first hand, felt financial insecurity, vulnerability, been subject to domestic violence, abuse or neglect during lockdown. Hunger has been high on the country’s radar during half term for children and we progress into the colder, winter months. On top of this, there are of course the stresses associated with social distancing including losing friends, networks and support structures , which is incredibly impactful for all ages.
“The changes in school including wearing masks, separation from other year groups, strict formation of bubbles and even the layout of the classroom causes stress for all involved. School may not be the safe, warm learning environment it used to be and school leaders need to recognise the signs for those who may be struggling, putting in place processes and support structures to provide the time and opportunity for these issues to be out in the open and discussed.
“There should be routes in place for staff and pupils to access support and counselling in the form of listening should be encouraged at every level so people are heard. Bespoke plans should be put in place for anyone identified as struggling, and indeed some schools have appointed a member of staff that solely concentrates on this.
“Ultimately, schools, senior leaders, PTA’s, teachers and pupils should not shy away from talking about these challenges originating from the pandemic, acknowledging the changes we are all now facing and how it makes us feel.
“Open communication should be encouraged at every level, with schools facilitating the needs of teachers and of pupils to learn, develop relationships and follow routines and structures that keep us all safe.”