Bag packed, lunch snacks fully stocked, computer screen lowered. Since lockdown measures were first implemented by the UK government in response to the coronavirus outbreak, most parents have swapped dropping their children off at the school gates for dropping them off at an internet gateway.
That was until this Monday when some – but by no means all – children in England returned tentatively to familiar classrooms. But what of the rest? After all, many parents still feel uncomfortable sending their child to school, and whilst it is just some primary schools now, and secondary schools and sixth forms from the middle of the month – we are still a long way from opening to all year groups, especially for those with exams on the horizon.
Then there’s teachers who have had to take on a new hybrid role: part time educator, part time IT assistant, part time virtual entertainer, and, sometimes, fulltime technology expert. Schools and colleges too have faced a steep learning curve when it comes to finding ways to reach students, parents and staff while everyone is at home. And, as lockdown measures begin to relax, many will be wondering how much of this supposed ‘new normal’ will remain and what the education sector will look like in the wake of the pandemic.
An education continuity plan will be vital
This should be a given following lockdown. When lockdown measures were first instated, many schools and colleges were left wondering how they could still deliver lessons to millions of children across the UK. And, despite some initial skepticism, for the most part, technology has become a big part of the solution.
Remote learning platforms like Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom have become vital in providing students and parents with access to the learning resources and the ability to collaborate during lockdown. And whatever the short-term next steps are for the education sector, continuing to make the most of these new technologies will be necessary to future proofing schools and colleges against ever-evolving ways of working and studying. Whether it’s needed because of flooding, severe winter conditions or other reasons a child cannot make it into school, in each case technology could be the bridge that ensures pupils still have access to the education they deserve.
In fact, it’s quickly become clear that an education continuity plan will rely heavily on a school’s ability to switch seamlessly between online learning, live lessons and a hybrid between the two. After all, lockdown restrictions are likely to have made a lasting change to the education sector and we can expect a more digital world – in which the classroom and home learning operate side by side – will be with us for some time to come.
But for schools and colleges to provide effective home learning, they need to have the technology in place – in the form of a reliable online platform, modern computer devices and functionality that works effectively for teachers, pupils and parents alike – as well as investing in support and training for those teachers who are adjusting to this new way of working.
A clear IT strategy is key
Schools and colleges should be a constant for all children – whatever the circumstances. In order to protect education from extenuating circumstances such as those we’re all under now - and if there is any good to come from the last ten weeks in lockdown – technology must become a necessity, rather than remain a novelty.
Whilst most institutions have adapted magnificently, it is clear that those who had a well thought out IT strategy at the outset were able to make the shift more easily. Instead of implementing technology for its own sake – without a clear understanding of the specific objectives expected of it – the winners are those who had the right technology foundations in place from the very beginning providing teachers and staff with the confidence they need to make the most of the digital tools on offer.
What does this mean pragmatically? Well, it is very clear that those schools, colleges and academy trusts who have put the team responsible for IT at the centre of their school strategy, are those seeing the biggest benefit now. Given the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the sector (and it’s important to remember that we are far from out of the woods yet), the role of the IT leader has become even more important.
Taking teachers on the journey
Earlier this year, RM Education research revealed that only a quarter (27%) of teachers were confident using the technology provided by their school. When schools first closed, C3 Education undertook separate researchresearch that suggested that barely a fifth of teachers were coping with learning from home and almost half of pupils were struggling.
That said, it is clear that these views are changing. Teachers have needed to adapt to teaching remotely during lockdown, and these skills should be embraced as we move forward and pupils start to return to the classroom. The remote teaching platforms which are in place – and schools who are yet to invest in one can apply for DfE funding – will bring long lasting benefits over and above teaching remotely. From running staff meetings across multiple sites, to encouraging pupils to collaborate on documents jointly and even enriching lessons with pre-prepared content from sources such as Oak Academy. This could be the catalyst for taking our Education system to a whole new level.
As some schools and colleges start to re-open, this week is the first step in a gradual return of pupils – with numbers increasing in the weeks and months ahead. As we move forward from lockdown, teachers should feel supported to use technology more frequently – as it becomes an important tool to enrich teaching and manage workloads effectively.
Simon Carter, Director, RM Education