Covid-19 and schools – a moment to act
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 June 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for schooling, as it has been for many areas of society. But its order of magnitude has also revealed in no uncertain terms some very clear and convincing priorities for action, from which much good could follow. That was the main message from our debate What if… our education system changed for good in light of COVID-19? Part 1: schools, with Mary Bousted, Jon Coles, Natalie Perera and Mrunal Sisodia.
So, what, in our panelists’ view, have been the main lessons from the pandemic, and what impetus for change has it presented? In most cases the lessons ran far larger than the catch-up tuition currently to the fore of the education policy response to Covid-19.
Some lessons related to the harsh light that Covid-19 has shone on levels of inequality in our society and the fragility of many families: the need to keep hold of the current focus on addressing those inequalities and the attainment gap they generate; the need to recognise that schools are not just about education but also hubs for their communities, hubs that many families have come to rely upon more and more, as other services have been cut.
Other lessons concerned the nuts and bolts of schooling and, ultimately, trust in teachers: the over-reliance on exams that has been so starkly exposed and the need to empower teachers in formative and summative assessment; the case for Ofsted to re-focus on sharing intelligence across the schools system through its survey reports, something that could in turn do much to reduce the high workload and high levels of stress experienced by teachers.
As for other aspects of teachers’ working lives, the panel saw other possibilities from the experience of lockdown: the prospect of a new relationship between schools, teachers and parents and carers, towards a greater sense of partnership working and co-production; the opportunity to move forward on flexible and remote working for teachers, an aspect of the schools system that still lags far behind other parts of the labour market.
Overarching all of this, for our panel, was the matter of intergenerational fairness. As a society we have prioritised protecting those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, as well as the capacity of the NHS. Children and young people have paid a heavy price in terms of their schooling and life chances. As well as taking the opportunity to act on wider inequalities, recognise the wider role of schools, and improve teachers’ working lives, we now need to invest heavily in the next generation’s future, well beyond the school gates.
You can listen to or watch the debate here.
Tune in for the remaining debates in this mini-series: