Lessons from lockdown. The positive impact of the pandemic on schools and learning.May 07, 2021
Lessons from lockdown
Over the past year, there has been considerable media coverage about the negative impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic on schools and learners. We know that it has widened the literacy gap, created untold stress and anxiety for many families, and put educators under a tremendous amount of pressure. However, for this week's blog, I will be reflecting on what good has come out of remote learning and what lessons we can learn from lockdown.
This first point is perhaps the most common piece of positive feedback we've had from teachers: that lockdown has led to improved relationships between schools and families. The closure of schools forced teachers and students to enter the unknown world of remote learning together. In doing so, many of the conventions of teaching, including its level of formality, were removed or at least reduced. Whereas before lockdown, lots of families had never contacted their school (often being unsure about who to contact or whether their concerns about their child were valid), during the period of remote learning, parents/carers were being contacted much more regularly by teachers and encouraged to contact individual teachers directly too. PEN has spoken to parents and teachers who have reported that the increase in communication has improved relationships between home and school.
Additionally, the commitment shown by teachers to get lunches and laptops to families in deprivation during lockdown has demonstrated to parents/carers how much teachers care. You'll no doubt have heard countless instances of teachers going the extra mile for their school community. For example, The Hunger Site reported Assistant Headteacher Zane Powles from Grimsby delivered 78 school lunches on foot each day during the lockdowns! Most parents and caregivers are appreciating these and other efforts made by schools during the pandemic. A 2020 Parentkind study found that 85% of parents were satisfied with the way their child's school had communicated during school closures. Teachers have also reported that visiting families at home has also benefitted them. One PEN member teacher stated that visiting deprived students gave her a greater understanding of the baggage they were bringing with them to the classroom. This mutual appreciation appears to have created a culture of trust and understanding in lots of schools, improving pastoral care and parental engagement.
Insight into the classroom
Another factor sited with improving relationships between schools and families during lockdown is parents and caregivers being given an insight into what goes on in the classroom. There has certainly been a good deal of social media coverage from parents showing their appreciation for teachers, including Mumsnet comments like "I am even more appreciative of you now" and "I never really thought much about teachers apart from wow what an easy job with loads of time off. Who was I kidding? They deserve a medal for what they do".
It's clear that for many parents, remote learning and the challenge of facilitating this at home has led to greater sympathy with and appreciation of teachers. Additionally, some of our PEN member schools have told us that remote learning has helped expand parents' 'school vocabulary'. Lots of parents are now much more confident in their own abilities to teach their children. One PEN member school cited a striking example of this being parents' increased confidence with phonics. This has led to some students in her class demonstrating significant progress in their reading.
New ways of working - an opportunity to upskill.
As if teachers weren't already experts at problem-solving, the pandemic has given them even more issues to resolve - and they really stepped up to the challenge! Whilst many organisations were floundering for months about how to run their businesses during the lockdown, schools and teachers adapted quickly to remote learning and rotating staff to teach key workers' children. Of course, this wasn't easy. There were some significant issues to overcome, not least getting laptops to families in need. However, PEN has seen teachers adapt quickly and be more flexible in their approach as educators. Many becoming experts in videoconferencing and communication software that they'd previously never used! Several PEN members have commented on how they had upskilled during the pandemic and learnt to become better, more flexible practitioners.
A catalyst for change and reform.
This final point is about the legacy the pandemic will leave in education. Last year's events have led many to question whether the current education system is fit for purpose. Whilst there is understandably a focus on the children who have been left behind due to the pandemic, there are many stories of children thriving whilst learning from home at their own pace. This has led to some schools moving towards a 'blended learning' approach. As Dr Harrison, ACS International Schools' Education Strategy Services Directors comments, the pandemic has acted as a "catalyst for change". He states that employing "the key principles of blended learning will help, as we advance into the next 'better' normal".
It's safe to say that the pandemic has had a significant impact on all aspects of education, and exams have borne the brunt. Some teachers have questioned the effectiveness of the current testing methods for years. However, the uncertainty around assessment brought about by Covid-19 has led many more to believe that GCSEs and A-Levels need reform.
Guide Education founder Leon Hady has stated that "Exams are no longer fit for purpose" and that "They were always about short-term retrieval rather than skills." Hady believes skills have changed, and exams no longer reflect this. "They were a system which did for many years work for colleges or universities. Asking for answers on a piece of paper allowed them to scale. However, now with technology applicability, teamwork and communal skills are far better than being able to remember something short term."
So, for all the disruption and difficulties that the pandemic has caused for schools, there are some positive things to come out of it, particularly in improving understanding between families and schools. Can we learn these lessons from lockdown to improve outcomes for students in the future?
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