Blended learning is likely to be the norm for some time, says Vikas Pota. So let’s help teachers understand what their new reality will be

I’ve spent the best part of the past decade thinking about how we improve teacher status. This is why, in part, I established an annual global prize for teachers, to ensure the world could hear about how important and inspiring teachers are.

While Covid-19 has been a traumatic experience across society, it has more than underscored the same point in a more vivid way. Alongside other key workers, there’s a higher level of appreciation for what teachers do, day-in day-out, as parents have been forced to pick up the baton and home-school their children.

We’ve seen disruption all around us as businesses close, staff are laid off and the way we approach work is changed. Despite such high-risk stakes, our government is doing a woeful job, at best, of helping teachers understand what their new reality could be. In the absence of clarity and direction from our national political leaders, schools are making preparations to return in September (even this week in some cases) knowing full well the new teaching structures and safety measures may not work.

The “model of schooling last adapted during the first industrial revolution” has been the subject of far too many TED talks – for all the wrong reasons. Over the past century, while technological advances have propelled other sectors ahead, educationists have been asking “when will we get on this train?”

The answer will have to be now.

Technology has breathed life into the way we teach

Technology has breathed life into the way we teach in the past months, opening up a world of resources for those with the know-how. Technology can mean an end to boring homework and to tedious marking. It has the potential to provide us with really in-depth feedback on students gleaned from software, and thus to free up teachers to do what they do best more effectively – teaching and mentoring.

However, limitless though the potential is, how many of our teachers feel equipped to seize these opportunities? Schools have historically had a single teacher appointed as the IT lead, with the entire staff reliant on him or her to provide advice or fix the jammed copier.

Whether or not one believes the change is or should be permanent, let’s assume blended learning will be the norm for the next year. According to research we carried out ahead of the T4 conference in May, eight out of ten teachers said they felt they needed more training. If it is to be a success, every teacher in every classroom needs to feel comfortable and confident using technology as a teaching tool.

Governments and local authorities need to prioritise additional training and professional development to incorporate technology and its resources into teachers’ and school leaders’ practice. Support needs to move away from the current status quo, where teachers receive a host of recommendations, but are left to decide for themselves which app or product they should use over another.

Over the past few months, schools have been deluged with lists of free apps and software packages for use at home, without much guidance on what works on a practical level in the home classroom. This shouldn’t happen to those we’ve entrusted to educate our future generations; we need to upskill our teaching workforce in a genuine and outcome-focused approach.

The autumn and winter terms are unlikely to be free of disruption; the investment into creating 10,000 hours of teaching through the Oak National Academy reflects this. But our response to Covid-19 has been too reactive and our children can’t afford for their education to be blighted by leaps of faith where there should be a logical, planned, front-foot strategy. Blended learning is here to stay, at the very least until a successful vaccine is created. Unions, teachers and the public need to exert pressure on government to take proactive steps to improve the profession’s evidence base as well as teachers’ know-how.