Amid uncertainty, we can narrow down likely scenarios to ensure all learners get the best from our schools no matter what happens, writes Leora Cruddas
Despite our best efforts, the Education Endowment Foundation’s rapid evidence review suggests that school closures are likely to widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers by as much as 36%. But the impact is not only educational. It is also social and economic.
We know some families are under considerably more pressure confined in their homes, and this is not limited to the families schools had concerns about before the pandemic. There has been a significant increase in domestic violence, and there will likely be implications for mental ill-health, not least from bereavement.
And in spite of the government safety nets, the strong likelihood is that we will see a rise in child poverty and unemployment, especially youth unemployment with the broader welfare issues that go along with that.
For these reasons, we need to ensure as many pupils as possible return to formal schooling in the Autumn, yet we don’t know what it will be possible to do safely. That’s why we need to think about education continuity planning now.
Broadly, there are only really three scenarios to plan for: rotas with blended learning, an eventual full return, and school closures and/or local lockdowns where this becomes necessary.
The first will require schools and trusts to put blended learning in place and ensure curriculum continuity between classroom provision and remote education while implementing some protective measures.
Broadly, there are only really three scenarios to plan for
A full return to school will need to focus on curriculum recovery and emotional and family support as necessary. Even in this scenario, we may still have to implement some protective measures for a while – possibly a long while.
In the event of local lockdowns and more school closures, it will be important – if at all possible – to retain some onsite provision for those pupils who most need our care and support, as well as examination groups. The probability is that other groups will need to move to remote education for a short time.
Whatever the scenario, our plans should be informed and underpinned by three key principles: equity, resilience and flexibility. We must ensure the just provision and distribution of resources to pupils in a way that reflects their needs and requirements. We need to find solutions that adapt well in the face of multiple stresses on individuals, families, schools and the sector. And leaders must be trusted to exercise discretion and good judgement to suit their context and the best interests of their pupils, parents and communities.
Gaps in learning are a matter of grave concern, but they are not insurmountable. When a trust sponsors a school, the gaps in curriculum and knowledge are often extensive. These are repaired through a systematic approach to the curriculum allied with precision in pedagogical delivery.
So in the first instance, our provision needs to prioritise those pupils who have the most significant gaps in their learning and address those who have increased vulnerabilities.
But our duty is to all our students, and because we are planning for multiple scenarios, we need to consider how we build curriculum resilience and agility. To safeguard pupils’ learning, a refined approach to blended learning will be necessary that allows pupils to move quickly between complementary programmes of remote and school-based learning, with schools seeking to optimise the benefits of each paradigm.
The Confederation of School Trusts would caution against layering multiple interventions onto schools at this time. Introducing more complexity could mitigate against those things that schools do best – strong, purposeful quality first-wave teaching; a well-planned curriculum; powerful welfare and pastoral systems.
Where schools can be supported is through local authorities and health commissioners reviewing family support in their areas – mental health provision, bereavement support and provision for adults and children fleeing domestic violence.
In addition, a campaign of communication and training for families is needed so that more can adapt successfully to make the most of blended home/school provision over the coming 12 months.
It won’t be school as we know it, but by working together we can address the impacts of COVID-19 and prepare for education continuity for next academic year.