Want to know the best lessons from lockdown? Ask your students
A student and staff questionnaire would help schools benefit from lockdown experiences, writes Peter Tait
“Turns out not being taught for six months leads to better results. I’ve always said school was overrated.” (Comedian Henning Wehn, talking about GCSE results)
Several months ago, I wrote an article on what lessons we can take from the lockdown of schools. Many of the observations were obvious at the time. Take, for example, the loss of social spaces for children and the deleterious effects of little or no social interaction.
We also saw the flexibility of learning times offered by online learning and the growth in the use and understanding of technology by parents, teachers and students. We saw the inadequacy our current assessment system; the issues with funding and future financial implications and the reduction (although not the absence) in teacher-student interaction.
Other lessons were less obvious and some have only become apparent more recently, including the impact on mental health and the implications of relying so heavily on summative assessment.
"It would be folly to ignore what we have learned."
All told, they pose a considerable challenge for our schools as they re-open. In our rush to get schools up and running again, it will be important, therefore, for school leaders and governors to spend some time looking at the effects of lockdown on children and the implications for future planning.
It would be folly to ignore what we have learned and resort to the status quo and pretend nothing has changed. There is no doubt that the job facing heads and their management teams is very considerable and they will have their hands full dealing with the regulatory requirements involved in managing their response to Covid-19. Yet it is crucial that strategic thinking is not lost in the rush to get students and teachers back to work.
One option for heads, in light of their own brimming in-trays, is to identify members of staff who don’t necessarily have senior responsibilities, but who think about education and enjoy blue-sky thinking. They might relish the opportunity to try and measure the impact of the past six months and put it to good use.
A possible start to this could be through a questionnaire to gather information on the students’ experiences of lockdown. This could include questions on the perceived benefits (or otherwise) of learning online; whether it suited some subjects/students more than others; whether there were enough resources available; whether they feel safer and less stressed and whether they felt some online courses suited their own learning.
"The role of schools could be subtly redefined."
And then they could get their teachers to do the same. It would be surprising if the feedback didn’t highlight the loss felt from not being able to interact with their peers. It may proffer some suggestions as to how this and their distance learning could be better managed in the future.
It could be that the role of schools is subtly redefined, with more community involvement by capitalising on better communications and links between home and school. It could be that students will want blended education to be a part of their future and are eager for more breadth in the curriculum and alternative ways to study.
The implications for schools are huge. Not least, how to tap into this enhanced network of student-parent-teacher to assist feedback, community learning, reporting and pastoral care. It might also show us how to provide a better and broader online provision (which may involve the employment of subject tutors and facilitators as distinct from classroom teachers). How too, can we make schools less stressful for those who struggle socially and academically? Can we structure the school day differently with later starts and/or more flexible lessons?
"How can we make schools less stressful for those who struggle?"
Should new skills/subjects be prioritised? Should some subject boundaries, at certain levels, be dismantled altogether? For example, history, geography, sociology, economics and ecology could well be linked together as social sciences.
These are just some of the most obvious questions. All of this would help inform SMTs/governors for future planning. Yes, schools are much more than test results and the absence, with very few exceptions, of schools claiming bragging rights this year from their examination results was a godsend. Governors are right to acknowledge the hard work of teachers and schools to create new learning and teaching environments, often in the face of public and government criticism, to ensure schools can re-open on time. But in our rush to get life back to normal, we need to look at what we have learned and apply the lessons of the last eight months. We can't go back. We just need to ask again, are we providing the best education we can for our children - and if not, what do we need to do better?
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