How have schools and colleges responded to the COVID-19 pandemic across England?
The Department for Education has published their research and analysis of School Recovery Strategies: Year 1 Findings. This offers an interesting state of the nation view…
Schools adapted and responded rapidly, despite perceptions. Of course, not every school had the capacity to respond immediately, and we all know that there was a big discrepancy between online delivery in the independent sector (from March 2020 onwards) when compared to the state school system.
This 46-page report (published this week) details the findings from a mixed-methods study that aims to understand how primary and secondary schools in England have responded to the impact of COVID-19.
This is my summary for busy classroom teachers…
In wave one, between December 2020 to July 2021, there were semistructured interviews with school leaders, then a 20-minute survey online gathering the views of 1,018 school leaders. In the latter half of this wave, further semi-structured online interviews were completed.
In wave 2, between September 2021 to July 2022 (still in progress), case studies were completed with school leaders, teachers, parents and pupils.
The online 20-minute survey is about to commence next month, with future interviews and case studies to be completed from April 2022 onwards…
Response by schools and colleges…
Despite the negatives, there were unexpected positives and it’s worth highlighting these here.
- There was an accelerated use of IT and rapid skill development of staff and pupils.
- Remote teaching and increased use of technology and tools were in abundance.
- Improvements in sanitary procedures and school systems (e.g. lunch rotas, dedicated spaces)
- There was also a stronger staff culture and resilience, working through adversity, with commitment, goodwill and a deeper knowledge of complex needs and stronger relationships with families.
When I read this, this sums up the true purpose of a school community.
School leaders discussed Ofsted uncertainties in interviews, with concerns around inspections and judgements that may not adequately recognise the complex challenges faced by pupils and schools following the pandemic and extended home-schooling. It was suggested that Ofsted frameworks and inspections be adapted to take account of schools’ current challenges, whilst holding schools appropriately accountable for their ongoing improvement.
Ofsted was slow to respond and placed unnecessary pressure on schools…
Unhelpful comments, for example, when HMCI Amanda Spielman said “In a lot of schools, it felt as though their attention went very rapidly to [helping] the most disadvantaged children, making food parcels, going out visiting… but in some cases [it was prioritised over teaching].”
Take a look at my example of text mining as a result of this conversation…
The report to date suggests:
- Most primary schools were focused on the differences in progress between pupils.
- For secondary schools, it was pupils’ emotional and mental health.
- Restrictions for staff and pupil absences are also key challenges for both phases.
- As the year progressed (September 2020), school leaders reported disparities in pupils’ mental health
- Disadvantaged pupils who did not attend school or engage online have been the most profoundly impacted.
- Half of primary schools increased teaching hours for English and maths
- Most secondary schools for English, maths and science remained the same
- PSHE and PE were re-established and/or increased; including outdoor activities
- Subjects that involve specialist facilities (e.g. music) were reduced due to practical restrictions
- Schools are unable to offer extracurricular activities.
The National Tutoring Programme also gets a mention, but the bureaucracy surrounding getting started, has hindered its success.
Schools were focused on the following priorities:
- Additional (flexible) funding to respond to COVID-challenges, with time to plan how it would be used.
- More high quality, free CPD to ensure high-quality teaching and learning.
- Additional support for remote education practice and recovery/catch up pedagogy.
- More timely and clearer communication of government changes and timescales, including accountability.
- For secondary schools, more guidance on assessment for exam year groups and career guidance.
What wider system changes are needed?
School leaders have suggested the following:
- Changes in accountability; that inspections may not adequately recognise the complex challenges faced by pupils and schools
- Changes to examinations for 2021/22, particularly for secondary schools.
- More live feedback from leaders and teachers to inform policy in real-time for government
- Changes to curriculum content
- Further cross-sector work to address the wide-reaching impacts of worsening inequalities in education
- Support to address staff burnout and potential staff retention issues
- Further public and government recognition and positive messaging.
A quote from a school leader sums it up: Our staff and community have made it happen!