“If you always do what you‘ve always done, you‘ll always get what you‘ve always got.” ― Henry Ford.
Suddenly many of the established ways in which our schools have operated for many years have had to either cease or adapt fundamentally. All of this has had to happen with minimal preparation because of the speed of escalation of the emergency. There is no question that our key workers including those who work in education have risen to this challenge admirably demonstrating commitment, determination and generous leadership.
One thing that is absolutely certain is that the world will not be the same after this event. Every one of us has lessons to learn. What does that that mean for our education service? Will it, can it, or should it ever try to revert to its previous configuration? Or should this crisis be the catalyst for some fundamental questions? However awful the current situation is, are there perhaps hidden opportunities?
I would argue that it is incumbent upon us to consider these questions in an objective, non-partisan and dispassionate way. Many people are asking similar and complementary questions on our social media. Some are challenging fundamental aspects of existing education policy; others are highlighting those strengths that should not be lost. Some examples are included at the end of this piece. Let us all engage in the conversation.
The aim of this piece is to contribute to an agenda for a discussion which has to take place when this crisis comes to an end and we have had an opportunity to evaluate properly the educational and social impact on our students and staff. I am not sure how or where this discussion should take place. All I know is that it is essential.
To be clear it is not
- an attempt to place education on a pedestal in any way undervaluing the massive efforts of so many other public servants in different sectors.
- an attempt to supply answers to a rapidly evolving and unfinished event.
- about seeking to analyse or criticise the way any aspect of this crisis has been managed.
On the contrary. If we are to learn anything from what happens we will have to understand that the only way to move forward will be with humility and an open mind.
Questions to consider
Here then is a first set of questions about some of those systems and routines that have been dramatically affected. Many of these will be as uncomfortable for me as they are for others and there will be gaps that I have not yet thought about. I hope that readers will add further questions or amend some of mine to fill in those gaps. If any of the questions imply a point of view that is not my intention. In the interests of our young people we must be bold enough to consider all of them objectively and seek evidence to inform our findings.
I would warmly welcome feedback and opportunities to discuss this further either via social media or my direct email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Use of time
The school calendar and fixed daily timetable of lessons for groups of students and the whole school
- What have we learnt about the way students have used their days during the closure?
- What impact has that had on their styles of learning?
- In many cases students have had a significant element of flexibility over when they have done their studying and how their days have been organized. What have been the advantages and disadvantages of this and the impact on students’ learning?
- Schools were asked to be open in the Easter holiday period. What has this taught us about the current shape of the school year?
- Is there a case for reconsidering any aspects of the school day?
- What have we learnt about the examination timetable and its impact on the school calendar?
- The curriculum and educational vision
- Which aspects of the curriculum were taught during the closure?
- How are we going to assess the impact of that?
- To what extent was work given to students due to the closure based on what we would have done if open and to what extent was it based on the new uncharted circumstances?
- What gaps did we discover?
- What have we learnt about curriculum content that needs to be continued?
- What implications are there for PSHE / skills for life/ wellbeing and other cross curricular aspects?
- There have been impressive examples of collaboration in curriculum planning across schools, trusts and more widely. What are the lessons from this and are there aspects that we could continue?
- Are there lessons for the future for students who for whatever reason cannot attend regularly?
- How inclusive was the work we set or were certain groups unintentionally disadvantaged.
- The use of technology as a virtual learning tool
- What lessons have we learnt from the use of remote learning platforms during this period? What don’t we yet know?
- How are we going to assess the impact of the work students have been given during the closures?
- What is the equality impact of the types of learning that have taken place during the closures?
- What are the lessons regarding the disadvantaged?
- What are the implications in terms of future provision/policy.
- Before the closures much has been said and written about the negative aspects of smartphones. During this period they have been the main tool for communication with most students. What are the implications for the future?
- What have we learnt about the ‘digital divide’ and what are the implications?
- What is the feedback from students? What do we need to teach young them in order to ensure that they have the essential knowledge and competence to make use of remote/online learning resources?
- What lessons have we learn about preparing students for independent study?
- What have we learnt about ways of communicating with individual students to offer them help/advice and guidance?
- Are there opportunities to use electronic communications to organize some of the interventions which often take place after school? Can some of these additional sessions be recorded – what would be the implications for example monitoring progress , impact, checking understanding?
- Are there opportunities to use these kinds of systems more for students who are ill etc.?
- Are there opportunities to use these types of resources for students who, for whatever reason, need to be removed temporarily from lessons?
- To what extent an such resources be used in PRUs?
- What do we need to learn as a profession in order to use these resources effectively?
- What are the policy implications regarding educational technology? Should there be any national standards/ procurement arrangements/ protocols etc. or should this be left to individual schools and trusts? Should national platforms for sharing resources be shared?
- Assessment and testing
The cancellation of examinations and the role of teacher assessment and professional judgements about students’ attainment is significant. The fixed calendar of exams made the decision about closing schools in England very different from other countries where teacher assessment is the norm.
- Once the awarding process is over this summer, what are the lessons we have learnt about teacher assessment?
- Is there a case for rebalancing the roles of teacher assessment and summative tests?
- If so, how can we build confidence in the profession to increase their role and skills in assessmen?
- What difference has the absence of SATs made? What will be the impact on secondary schools? What are the implications for the future of KS2 testing?
- Much of the curriculum in place at the beginning of the closure was related to exam/test preparation. To what extent did the cancellation of exams lead to other forms of learning and content? Are there lessons to be learnt from this?
- What examples are there of worthwhile learning experiences and curriculum content that were introduced during the closures and had not been in place beforehand?
- What is there to learn from examples of project-based learning, cultural experiences and lessons on acts of kindness, social responsibility that have been devised?
- Accountability: The suspension of the inspection system and performance tables.
- Combined with the fact that guidance about a whole raft of issues needed to be prepared after the schools were closed, to what extent have schools held themselves to account and taken control of their responsibilities?
- What difference has the cancellation of performance tables made?
- What difference has the cancellation of inspections made?
- What will a quality education have looked like in 2020?
- Should performance tables and/or inspections simply be reintroduced or should these systems undergo any kind of review? If they are to be reintroduced when is the right time?
- Are there changes that should be made to these accountability systems when we return?
- What has been the impact on the quality of teachers and school leaders’ work with the fact that they have had to work remotely and more independently than previously without many of the external controls that normally exist?
- Attendance in person and all of the associated registration, monitoring, interventions and accountability around that.
The closure has turned on its head most existing practice regarding attendance.
- What has the impact on students of not attending school been?
- What have been the biggest concerns?
- What systems have been used to monitor and safeguard vulnerable students and how effective have they been? Are there any lessons to learn?
- Have any unexpected , beneficial educational opportunities arisen?
- What are the implications in terms of those students who have not traditionally coped in a mainstream classroom and have needed alternative provision. Have we discovered any approaches that have worked for these students?
- The teaching profession has had a huge role regarding the safeguarding of young people during the closures. Bearing in mind that schools are normally only open during limited times and terms what lessons have we learnt from this?
- What should be the respective roles of schools and external agencies?
- What should happen during school holidays?
- What are implications in terms of future practice for schools of the increase in domestic abuse?
- To what extent should schools be responsible for ensuring that children are fed and clothed and what are the wider policy implications?
- The role of schools as community hubs providing child care, food etc. and helping key workers to fulfil their essential roles.
- There have been many inspiring stories of the role schools have played during this crisis. What have we learnt about the role of schools in the community?
- What lessons have we learnt about the ways schools and external agencies do/can/should work together?
- What should the core role of schools be in the future?
- Expectations of students’ personal responsibility and behaviour
- What have we learnt about the way students have taken responsibility for their studies?
- What has worked well?
- Is there anything we could continue?
- What has not worked and what are the implications of that into the future?
- When schools reopen what will have been the impact of the closure on students’ behaviour and motivation?
- Are there opportunities to seize from the experience of schools being closed?
- Will students have a different view about motivation and ‘buy in’ to their education?
- Are there students who have been subject to significant risks during the closure and, if so, what action needs to be taken?
- Expectations of parents as partners in the educational process
A quick look at Amazon’s list of best seller books revealed no fewer than 62 of the 100 titles that were publications for children to work on at home with their parents. Social media have been full of examples of how children have been working at home while not in school. It is therefore very clear that parents have risen to the challenge and are providing a vast amount of support for their children.
- Parents have been given huge responsibilities during the closure. How could they have been better prepared for these?
- How can we build on this? What a difference it would make if this kind of partnership continued once our schools reopened.?
- Many parents have made huge efforts to support their children.
- What have we learnt from this commitment and how can we build on what they have achieved?
- Often parents have told teachers that they do not feel confident to help their children. How can we help by ensuring that they have access to resources and support that they can use?
- What is a reasonable expectation of the role of parents in their children’s education?
- Schools have perforce had to communicate with parents in different and more intensive ways than when the schools were open. What are the lessons to learn from this? How can we maintain the powerful relationships that are developing?
The level of engagement is of course not universal. There is a risk that the lack of daily contact and intervention with some students will widen the gap of disadvantage and the risks associated with that. Schools continue to try their hardest to mitigate against that.
- What can we learn from how those students have fared?
- Are there some successful strategies we can build on?
- Implications for forward planning, including recruitment
- How are we going to lead and manage the reopening of schools?
- How are we going to address the inevitable gaps in learning that will have occurred?
- What are going to do specifically for students currently in years 5, 10 and 12 who may face external assessment soonest?
- How are we going to support years 6, 11 and 13 over transition?
- How are we going to ensure that we are fully staffed when we reopen?
- What are the implications for supporting teachers who have missed out on large parts of their initial training?
- What are we going to do where we have lost key staff and not had opportunity to replace them?
- Leadership of fundamental change in working conditions and the role of teachers as home workers.
- What have we learnt from teachers working at home?
- Teachers have needed to work more autonomously and independently during the closures. How positive has this been? Have there been any disadvantages? What are the lessons from the increased trust in their professionalism?
- Has this provided opportunities for CPD and the development of learning resources?
- What gaps have become evident in the skills and knowledge of our staff during this period?
- If another crisis of this kind occurred how might we be better prepared?
- Are there changes in working practices that could be beneficial?
- Could we be using videoconferencing platforms to enable some people to have more flexible ways of attending meetings?
- Could we be using webinars/videos etc. to record some CPD presentations instead of presenting them in person.
- Is it time to replace some face to face courses and conferences with virtual ones?
- Do we need all teachers to be present in school throughout the school day? Are there ways of creating the thinking/preparation time people have had during the closures?
- Teachers and school staff have been designated as key workers and their role has been a vital one during the crisis. What are the implications for future policy regarding the workforce?
- The public have been fulsome in their praise of teachers and other school staff during this period. How can we draw on this to build on the positive image they have recognize?
- What have we learnt about teacher workload during this period? Has the greater flexibility in working practices been beneficial or detrimental?
Examples of some recent blogs and articles on the theme
https://bit.ly/3eMciXr Curriculum must not focus solely on catching up