Covid has been damaging in the short-term, but its legacy could see this generation of students benefit from a vastly improved education system, says Matthew Kleiner-Mann
The past year’s ceaseless flow of negative headlines has caused us to coin the phrase ‘doomscrolling’. That’s bad enough for adults, but imagine being a child reading again and again about Covid’s ‘lost generation’.
Many have lost loved ones. All have lost some learning. And we can’t undo that, but the pandemic has also given us a rare opportunity to re-evaluate and rebuild our systems stronger. To make practical changes. To improve day–to–day school life. To be braver, more effective leaders too.
And it’s not just about what we can do for children, but what they can do for themselves. The experience has taught them valuable technology and life skills which will make them more resilient, more motivated and more employable in the future.
Some of the most effective changes our schools have made over the past year have been small adjustments with a big impact on learning. Using technology to enrich learning in school and at home is the obvious one, but there are plenty others.
Staggering play times has led to a significant reduction in playground incidents. Children get back to good learning quicker after breaks as a result. Coming into school in PE kit on PE days has had a similar effect.
We’ve had to re-evaluate our systems for monitoring children’s progress too. More regular progress meetings with teaching staff have given us much greater agility in identifying and fixing barriers to learning.
We couldn’t have imagined ourselves capable of half of it. And yet, here we are
And levels of parental engagement have soared. Participation in surveys has increased fivefold in some of our schools. Parents now have a much deeper understanding of how their children learn and how to encourage them, along with a deeper respect for school staff.
Internally, new ways of communicating with each other have sped up the spread of good practice. We use video conferencing to share effective innovations through masterclasses that are accessible to all. Our good practice groups meet more regularly, resulting in stronger and more productive networks. Even trustee and governing body attendance has improved.
Covid has changed the way we lead, and we are seeing much greater collaboration locally and regionally. We all recognised early on that we needed each other to navigate these unprecedented times, and that sense has only grown, even as we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Within our trust too, we have collaborated more than ever, saving time and stress when dealing with unfamiliar challenges.
And that support has made us braver. “Let’s go with Google Classroom.” “Let’s deliver live lessons.“ “Let’s send all our school computers home.” “Let’s change our staffing patterns.” “Let’s meet unions early on to talk about our plans.”
We couldn’t have imagined ourselves capable of half of it. And yet, here we are. Decisive leadership focused on single critical issues has united us, and that approach will be crucial to catch-up plans.
So much for our ability to support children and deliver an outstanding education system. But what of the children themselves?
Well, they’ve had to deal with remote learning on unfamiliar platforms, often with little or no adult support. For many, daily routines have been different and more challenging to follow.
Yet their adaptability to the new normal has been astounding. If anything, we should be focused, not on what they’ve lost, but on how much more independent, self-motivated and resilient they are than we thought. We should be praising them, acknowledging their skills and helping them to recognise how these will help them in the future.
Sure, some will need extra support, both academic and emotional. Well, that’s what teachers do! It won’t hurt to strengthen them in their efforts. And mental health practitioners may now be commonplace on school sites, but wouldn’t we have always welcomed them?
This generation of children are at the forefront of change. Thought of properly, they are not some lost generation, but the lucky ones.
We just need to be brave enough to tell them so.