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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

In Covid uncertainty - Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.

Teachers are amazing! With next to no warning they have moved their teaching from the classroom to an online environment and adapted their resources to a new style of delivery. Now they are engaging with young people they know and care about without leaving home. The skills, focus and commitment is obvious right across the country.

What is less impressive is the sometimes-patchy response of pupils to this commitment and expertise on their behalf. Where there is a stable family and an aspirational context young people are engaging and enjoying their learning as are their teachers. However, there are many absent faces in those lessons, many of whom need to engage for a variety of reasons.

The reasons for not logging on are many: there is no wifi, there are no lap tops available, there is only one computer and three users in the family, there is no encouragement or routine t help young people maintain focus. The move to online learning has exposed the fault lines in the school population in terms of poverty, mental health and family support. Many of the absent faces will not surprise the school staff who knew they would struggle despite telephone calls home and providing laptops from school. But there are other pupils who will have been just managing in school who will have fallen out of school contact. Those pupils, perhaps with hidden needs, may, ironically, have become more visible by their absence from online learning.

Those pupils who have not engaged with school at all, estimated at 35%, are considered to be more at risk by teachers. The risk includes educational reasons but also detrimental effects from family stress, boredom and mental health issues.[1] So, while this group of pupils seem to be losing ground, the engaged group are increasing their potential for learning and connections with school. The gap widens, a gap that will have to be managed only when the pupils return to the school building.

The university of Exeter and the Ambition Institute[2] have discovered that during lock down the attitudes of many parents to education and to home learning have become more positive. Despite finding it difficult many parents report that they have enjoyed the experience of sharing learning with their children and would like to continue it after lock down is eased. Another interesting finding is that many parents have changed their sense of responsibility about education and are less likely to delegate it completely to school.

Emerging from lock down will therefore involve responding to a more polarised population of pupils: those who have moved ahead, engaged with IT and strengthened their home learning environment and then those who have stopped learning, endured sustained levels of anxiety and apathy and will need additional help to re-engage with learning. Meeting the needs of both groups will require different strategies and some creative thinking when pupils return.

In the meantime some schools are trying to think through how they can bring the academic year to an end, how to manage transition out of years 11 and 13 and into the school at year 7. The schools will undoubtedly make creative responses to these challenges before the end of the term but there are more. Staff are being interviewed and are leaving, NQTs want to achieve full status for what is only half a years teaching. The life of the school goes on for the administrators and line managers of different groups of staff. Budgets have to be managed, wages paid and maintenance completed.

Teachers are amazing, flexible and creative. They have demonstrated that in the transition to online education in the last months. But more creativity and flexibility will be needed in the future. Despite the uncertainty about timetables and partial easing of restrictions it is never to early to start to reflect on how a school can bring the young people back into school and pick up a school community that will be significantly changed.

As military wisdom says: ”Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted”

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