Imagine if government, parliamentarians, business, public sector and education leaders, teachers, parents, and carers agreed on what would secure the most positive future for all children and young people. The disruption to the education of all children and young people caused by the pandemic with early years, school, and college closures (with the exception of vulnerable children (SEND) and the children of key workers) has been well documented.
The appointment of Sir Kevan Collins as the education recovery tzar in February 2021 was met with the support of government, parliamentarians, business, public sector and education leaders, teachers, parents, and carers. All were hopeful that an evidence-based solution, funded by the treasury would provide the resources needed to level up, close the gap or catch up. In essence, Sir Kevan’s plan was extending the school day, the provision of arts, sport and other co-curricular sessions, and expansion of tutoring sessions. The treasury did not agree, Sir Kevan Collins resigned.
England’s plan to invest £1.4 billion in tutoring at £50 per head combined with previous funding this equates to £310 for each child, £1300 less than the USA, £2,200 less than the Netherlands. This is not the first time England has fallen short of other countries, the OECD reports of the lack of investment compared with leading educational providers in early years, school, and post-16, with greater investment in tertiary education
Parliamentarians, business, public sector, and education leaders, teachers, parents, and carers, agreed prior to pandemic that fundamental changes were needed to a system that fails to develop the talents and abilities of all children in preparation for employment, this is echoed by recent commentary by Anne Longfield (former Children’s Commissioner) and Robert Halfon (Chair, Education Select Committee, and Lord Baker (former Education Secretary, 1988 Education Reform Act).
Now is the time to change. Curriculum and assessment, mental health and wellbeing, support for leaders and teachers, special educational needs and disability provision, initial teacher training and continuing professional development, vocational versus academic training, early years provision…… longstanding issues that remain unresolved. Each will require long term investment and development that engages government, parliamentarians, business, public sector and education leaders, teachers, parents, carers, children and young people. Keeping it simple, as advised early pandemic report by McKinsey followed PwC now is the time to learn from the pandemic experience.
Research during the pandemic revealed that partnership was at the root of high impact solutions to ensure that level up, close the gap or catch up would not be needed post pandemic :
- in the immediate investment in every child and young person successful schools demonstrated that leading learning at a time of crisis was a shared responsibility between leaders, teachers, parents and carers, students, and their siblings.
- there had been greater engagement with parents and probably a better appreciation by parents of the learning process.
- best practice has seen heads create on-line video blogs two or three times a week, make regular calls home, and support deprived families with day-to-day provisions or even desks and chairs for workstations.
Best practice schools worked to ensure every learner has access to digital capability linked to a change in pedagogy:
- Changed pedagogy, coordinated by a senior leader, has to be linked to the enhanced IT capacity; without changed pedagogy, providing devices for all can have a limited impact.
The pandemic was a one-off opportunity to build on the enhanced practice in schools given the enhanced capacity and experience of teachers and students.
- Created a coherent transparent learning path that emphasises what is expected – a well scaffolded series of tasks
- Kept things simple using a common platform – concentrating on the delivery not the technology
- Blended learning so it is not all screen time, so reducing stress for teachers and students
- Mitigate for those with a poorer learning environment – devices and connections, space to study, work packs as opposed to all IT
- Think wellbeing and encourage communication and relationships online – students and staff
- Build regular contact with the home
- Provide quick feedback, in real-time, and for additional tasks within 24 hours - synchronous and asynchronous learning
- Coach students to manage their work streams and deadlines
- Build a variety of differentiated, supported work – not just online (virtual) lessons and PowerPoints.
- Build additional support into the mix – safeguarding, English as an Additional Language (EAL), and Education, Health, Care Plans (EHCPs).
We learnt that during the pandemic impactful schools developed staff and pupil agency and expertise by building on four pillars. The cost? Participating schools reviewed current investment in order to focus on partnership, quality-first teaching, wellbeing, and digital leadership:
- Pillar 1: Parents' and carers' engagement in a child's learning is an important factor in improving pupil outcomes and achievements.
- Pillar 2: Provision for closing the gap by developing quality-first teaching through well-differentiated planning, personalised provision, and interventions.
- Pillar 3: Building core strength and resilience for all by helping students re-establish their goals and ambitions and by creating a clear visible curriculum narrative that enables them to be partners in their learning. Re-establishing well- being and optimism is an essential prerequisite to drive social mobility.
- Pillar 4: Digital skills: technology is opening new frontiers in terms of accelerating learning and personalising the education experience Increased understanding of virtual and blended learning in each education setting would transform the progress of all learners.
Imagine if government, parliamentarians, business, public sector and education leaders, teachers, parents, and carers agreed on what would secure the most positive future for all children and young people by building on best practice developed during the pandemic.
 McKinsey (2020) School-System Priorities in the Age of Coronavirus, London: McKinsey