If we were not initially convinced that COVID-19 would bring about lasting change, many of us are now coming to terms with the fact that the future landscape of our lives may not return to what we have known and loved.
The world of education, currently flipped in parts but still functioning incredibly well under the conditions imposed, may not emerge unchanged. Many argue that there is an opportunity here to think carefully about what needs to be dropped permanently (for some that is, for example, SATs, or the reception baseline assessment) or what can be reworked to better serve the people in our communities. It is an unparalleled opportunity for deep reflection on what education has come to mean in the current political context and what we would like it to mean in the future.
Leeds headteacher, Chris Dyson, recently tweeted his views on the opportunities posed by the lockdown. He said: “We have ran at a pace for years and years and years… this is a chance to step back, not rush and everyone take a year out. When we return, scrap ALL (Primary) testing and let kids carry on from where they were. Re-write the A level and GCSE papers to reflect a year off.” What might once have seemed extraordinary is now a viable suggestion worthy of consideration.
The role of technology in facilitating education in the lockdown is also under scrutiny. Key questions around the most effective way of delivering lasting lessons to all pupils in an age appropriate way remain largely unanswered as schools trial numerous approaches. A quick survey of friends with school aged children reveals that they are engaging with these online lessons to varying degrees. In households around the country there are good days and bad days.
In my own house things are going pretty well with school activities largely down to the regular class Zooms and recorded lessons. But I am aware that the success of these daily sessions is not only down to the obvious skills of the teachers, but also the size of the (very small) class. It is possible for each child to talk, to ask questions, to joke, play and laugh with their classmates because there are not thirty others crammed onto the screen. (That said, my son’s weekly Beavers meetings via Zoom work a treat and they usually involve around 20 children.) So can we say that the trials of online learning we are undertaking as a profession now are offering interesting insights into what may or may not be desirable in the future?
Ex-teacher turned education technology consultant Jodie Lopez feels there may be limits to the extent to which we can replace the face-to-face experience of the classroom. She explains, “As much as we are seeing that technology can facilitate live learning in some fashion, we are also seeing, alongside that, how much everyone is missing the face-to-face contact and relationships from the classroom, which technology does a fairly poor imitation of as a full time model. Therefore, live lessons are still likely to only be an addition maybe for tutoring, additional support and catch up lessons when students cannot make it to class in future, rather than a transformation. However, those teachers who are now finding ways to make online resources (voiceover of PowerPoint, forums or quizzes, and setting homework via the internet) may find that after all this they are much more willing and eager to incorporate that alongside their classroom practice even if just for homework or revision materials.”
No matter how quickly we can gather together online lessons into swish suites of learning, or how great the curriculum-linked output from national broadcasters may be (and BBC Bitesize has been a real attention grabber for my son), the obstacle we seem to face, as Lopez explains, is that there are real limits to alternatives to classes held live, in person with a qualified teacher or teachers.
Craig Parkinson is a freelance educational trainer and coach with expertise in Visible Learning, Singapore Maths and with an academic interest in the role that SOLO Taxonomy plays in developing consummate learners. For him, the key question is less will we return to business as usual and more can we return to business as usual. He explains, “If there’s a political will to go back to business as usual, then we will probably have very little choice. But business as usual wasn’t ever a one size fits all approach (even though there are factions trying to sell their version of what business as usual should be). So I think we will move towards a more blended approach of learning in Secondary, and possibly in parts of Primary, where pupils are able to access lectures online and TV Programmes for parts of their input, then they’ll attend classes for guided learning where they put their learning into practise, and then attend smaller groups for a type of tutorial with really high quality feedback given in small groups.”
Parkinson offers food for thought and insights on where we may travel to. “This will all happen within schools where pupils will need to be to also allow parents to work,” he explains. “But what if more people maintain the work from home movement? Then we could see one possible future: schools operating for, say, 3 days out of 5, with teachers having two days for planning, marking and so on. Schools operating like the German and Singaporean model with lessons for pupils until lunchtime then pupils either back home to their working from home parents or accessing online lectures in the afternoon. This doesn’t cover early years, key stage one and special educational needs, however. We would need to maintain an element of what we have typically done there. All of this requires a question to be asked regarding what tools and rules pupils are subjected to. If pupils are not allowed to be more self-regulatory then all of this is a hugely missed opportunity.”
We do not know what will be permanently changed in the world of education as a result of the lockdown and COVID-19, but we do know that some things can change, and some things should change in order that our profession moves forwards with greater effectiveness and perhaps even a more enhanced humanity. So much is unknown and so much is unresolved. For now, until we have clarity on the pathway out of lockdown, however long that takes us, we can only look to one day at a time.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.