As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage parts of the world, with India particularly badly hit at the moment, it is fair to say that most of us are in need of seeing a clear end to the disruption and challenges caused by Sars-CoV-2. It has been a long year and, perhaps due to the unseasonably cold weather, life seems difficult for many.
Yet as reports build up of people testing positive for Covid-19 despite being vaccinated (the numbers are relatively tiny – it is still, of course, essential to follow NHS advice) and the Seychelles starting another lockdown despite having 62% of its population fully vaccinated with two jabs, due to a surge in positive cases, it is clear that this is far from over. Vigilance and cooperation with all the scientific advice right now is key to moving forwards.
When we eventually reach a post-covid-19 world, we will need to turn our attention to the ways in which we might actively prepare for the next pandemic. According to a speech delivered by The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP in April 2021, the World Health Organisation estimates that we face a pandemic threat every 5 years. After the experience of the previous year, all of us could and should be better prepared. But what does this actually entail in the day-to-day life of a school?
As with all good plans for the future, we should perhaps begin by reflecting on the past. How did we act, how did we make decisions, how did we make changes and respond in a timely way to rapidly shifting demands? What impact did distractions and disruptions have on our crisis management throughout the pandemic? Where did we place the people in our communities?
We need also to consider the effectiveness of remote leadership throughout the pandemic. Was communication the best quality it could have been? Were the right people in the right place performing the right roles? Did we adequately invest in ongoing readiness as we went along? For example, how adept were we at providing remote pastoral support?
All of these questions could do with some of our time and thought so that the knowledge we have acquired is identified, harnessed and built on for the future.
What might help?
There is no doubt that the buildings in which schools are housed were part of the problem when it came to getting back to classroom teaching. The ways we use buildings and the rooms within them had to change and this may well feed into building designs of the future. Increased air flow is crucial now, with higher levels of ventilation also a must.
Taking deliberate steps to ensure that school buildings contribute to mental wellbeing will help, too. This could mean taking learning outdoors as much as possible. With the growth of outdoors-only nurseries and outdoor classrooms in those schools with the space, consideration of ways of learning beyond traditional indoor classrooms might usefully factor into thinking for the future.
Going beyond the buildings we teach and learn in, what else have we learned? If there is one thing that our experiences of the past year have taught us it is that expertise really matters. This cannot be emphasised enough. When it comes to preserving health and life, we really have not had enough of experts. This time around we had to harness and hone new skills at a rapid pace. Next time, we need to be far more prepared. One way would be to build expertise within your staff so that if and when it is needed, your response as a school is expert-led and expert managed. A dedicated team working on implementing changes indicated by whatever the current risk is can make plans, hone them and craft them over time so that they are ready to be added to and implemented at the shortest notice.
Making our environments as safe as possible – and certainly safer than they were before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us – just might help us to ride out whatever may strike in the future. Improvements in cleaning regimes, for example, and the retaining of anti-covid-19 measures that could help in the future, such as wearing PE kits all day on relevant days, the use of masks in very crowded spaces, hand sanitation points around the school and so on, may all contribute to safer teaching and learning spaces.
This isn’t over yet, and we do need to accept that this pandemic and those that might come hot on its heels could be a part of life in the years and decades ahead. That said, it might never happen again, that’s true, but honing our skills so that we are able to adapt to shifting demands will help to ensure that staff and students are excellently supported through whatever the most challenging of times throws our way.
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.