Covid adaptations have actually improved some aspects of school life

3 Oct 2020, 5:00

It’s not very new any more – and it certainly isn’t normal yet – but the adapted school day offers some benefits that might be worth keeping, says Tim Roach

A month into term, the changes teachers have made to make their classrooms and their practices Covid-secure following several instalments of government guidance are now beginning to feel routine.

Some of these – such as never-ending handwashing and perpetual pumping of hand sanitiser dispensers – were originally introduced way back in early March, when the inexorable progress of the coronavirus, like the inevitable iceberg encounter in Titanic, still seemed somewhat avoidable. Others were added to schools’ risk assessments in June with wider opening, and then again in September at the start of this strange new academic year.

Inevitably, these practices were going to have an impact on the organisation of the classroom and the school day. Staggered openings, breaks, lunches and closings mean staff are pushed to their timetabling limits. Add to this the increasingly likely event of a bubble (however small or large) being forced to self-isolate and it all means that staffing is probably the single biggest headache for leaders.

Lost learning on snow days is likely to be a thing of the past

But these adjustments, not forgetting base classrooms and one-way systems, have also had a positive impact on behaviour by removing potential friction opportunities. The more you look the more positives there are to be found (as long as they’re not Covid test results).

For starters, some schools have stopped teachers taking books home to mark, there are fewer in-person staff meetings and proper Ofsted inspections are conspicuous by their absence.

More significantly, most teachers have learned new skills over lockdown. In fact, the forced closure of schools was probably more of an incentive for teachers to try out new technology than years of sporadic CPD. In July, Teacher Tapp’s survey suggested that the use of video lessons and conferencing software had increased significantly. Now that the bar for remote learning has been explicitly set out by the DfE, schools are in a much stronger position to continue their curriculum offer remotely. From now on, lost learning on snow days is likely to be a thing of the past.

Large assemblies in the school hall also seem fading memories from a bygone age. This former staple of the school day is the most keenly felt casualty among staff and pupils alike. Yet once again, technology has come to our aid. Online assemblies, while not perfect, allow classes a shared experience once more. In fact, the act of communal viewing – seeing each other on the screen instead of just looking at the adult at the front – seems to be fostering its own special atmosphere. Conducted from each other’s classrooms or offices, they are also a huge time-saver.

Marginal gains in efficiency are also indirect benefits of other popular practices. To reduce the belongings children bring in from home, most schools have allowed pupils to wear their PE kit all day when required. The downsides (What if it rains?) exist, but the gains in terms of a reduction in lost learning time – and lost PE kit – are a boon that teachers will not want to give up if things ever get back to normal. Similarly, primary schools have had to abandon shared pencil pots in favour of personal equipment packs. Of course, pens still go missing, but it teaches children to look after their equipment that little bit more carefully.

Some changes remain controversial. The opening of windows and doors is a case in point. The need for good ventilation, coinciding with the chillier autumn climate, favours those who prefer their classrooms airy and cool, but winter weather will be a challenge. And then there is the imposition of rows, with some teachers evangelising the once-derided seating plan. One’s position tends to depend on the age of one’s pupils and the layout of one’s classroom, but whether this change is here to stay is certainly questionable.

Nevertheless, as we all hope for an end to Covid and all its implications, many of the changes we have made are unarguably for the better. It’s a shame it took a pandemic to make us flexible enough to try them.

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