One of the cruel ironies of COVID is that it’s often the children who most need school stability who have already faced multiple periods of time away from their teachers.
Children, families, and teachers up and down the country will be deeply saddened at the prospect of significant additional time out of school. Throughout this crisis, school staff have worked tirelessly to provide a safe learning environment for all pupils and to maintain safe staffing levels despite unprecedented pressures. Sadly, efforts to curtail the spread of COVID whilst keeping schools open have not succeeded, and for the second time in 12 months, schools will have to close their doors for all but a small minority of children.
The evidence clearly shows that the best place for children to learn is in school. Despite the heroic efforts of many schools to provide the very best quality remote learning, the curriculum has been patchy at best and too many teachers have been given almost no support in adapting to the demands of teaching online. Prior to the crisis, some schools had already invested substantially in virtual learning environments, whilst others had no experience of working in this way. As a result, there has been huge variation in the capability of schools to respond, and in the least equipped schools, children and parents have been left to navigate home learning with limited support.
There should be greater focus on pooling resources between schools, so that those who are already well equipped to provide learning online can provide support to other schools that are struggling. This is particularly important for smaller schools in high infection areas which are not already part of a successful Multi Academy Trust. Groups of schools could be convened at a local level to share best practice and build a more robust curriculum, enabling teachers to focus on building relationships with the children who need them most.
One of the cruel ironies of COVID is that it’s often the children who most need school stability who have already faced multiple periods of time away from their teachers. A report by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) this week showed that disadvantaged children had lost out on an average of three months of learning by the end of the summer, and that the effect had been much greater among those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Schools serving the most disadvantaged children are going to need significant additional resources to battle this crisis, not just now but in the years to come. They will also need full flexibility in how this is deployed so that they can meet the full range of the needs they face. An extraordinary uplift to the Pupil Premium should provide additional help to schools who are serving the greatest need and give our school leaders the autonomy to deploy funds for maximum effect.
To learn well from home, children need: reliable access to the internet on an appropriate device; a quality curriculum offer from their teachers; and regular conversations about learning with their parents or carers.
To learn well from home, children need: reliable access to the internet on an appropriate device; a quality curriculum offer from their teachers; and regular conversations about learning with their parents or carers. Current estimates show that 1.78 million children lack access to a laptop, desktop computer or tablet and the government’s ambitions on this are woefully inadequate. Fixing the digital divide is only one part of the equation though: to deliver quality learning outcomes, parents and teachers have a crucial role to play.
We must invest in people as well as physical equipment and enable both teachers and parents to access support in delivering remote learning most effectively. Just as any business would upskill and train its staff in the event of such a seismic change, so too must we invest in the skills and confidence of our educators to help them meet the scale of the challenges they face. Remote learning will remain a feature of our education system long after the pandemic subsides. If we can invest in the skills of teachers and parents now this will pay dividends long into the future.
Among all the priorities the government is currently juggling, securing the best possible education for all young people has to be top of the policy agenda. We recognise that just about every sector of our society is currently demanding substantial support to help them bounce back, or simply survive, and it is impossible to keep everyone happy. But few could argue against the importance of ensuring the futures of our children.
It is crucial for the future development of the North, and our country as a whole, that we strain every sinew to mitigate the impact of further periods of time out of school, especially for the most disadvantaged children. If we fail to act now, the impact could last for generations to come.