Reasons to be hopeful for education
If we ended 2020 with a sense of relief and excitement that it was finally over, January didn’t do much to restore our spirits: another round of lockdown, another round of live lessons, one grisly milestone after another making headlines as Covid seemed to tighten its grip once more. Half term is still a week away and for many teachers that week will feel like a marathon. The exhaustion debt from last year has yet to be repaid, and the looming results of the Ofqual consultation might bring with them yet more workload implications.
But there are reasons to be hopeful - and not just because of the lighter evenings that February brings with it. Where there is uncertainty, there is also opportunity; where there is disruption, there is also the chance to start again. Forget the so-called ‘lost generation’: 2021 and beyond might turn out to be a positive period for education. Here’s why:
We’ve learnt new ways of incorporating technology into the classroom. Granted, it was forced on us at the start, but that’s not to say there aren’t elements of it we might want to keep later on. EduTwitter has been awash with quick wins thanks to technology, from time saved through remote parents evening and online booking systems, to better use of online revision resources. A normal school year rarely leaves time spare to investigate and test out these options, but being forced to do so might just have uncovered some new practises we want to keep even after lockdown lifts.
Our virtual resource bank is bigger than ever. The huge and generous outpouring of resources from teachers and education professionals around the country has led to an online library like no other. Gone are the days of scraping around YouTube trying to find an appropriately educational video - thanks to the efforts of organisations like the BBC or Oak National Academy, there are more options to choose from than ever before.
We’ve discovered flexible working. This will not ring true for everyone - and for many, especially working parents, the opposite is sadly the case. That said, there will be plenty of schools out there who have realised they can trust their staff to work remotely in their free periods and still get things done. A little more flexibility in a system as rigid as education can only be a good thing, especially when trying to tempt more people to join the profession.
How we assess students is back up for debate: Two years of teacher assessed grades has forced us to ask ourselves not just how we assess, but why. Exam results are now less about judging schools, and more about helping students progress to the appropriate next step of their education in as fair and unbiased a way as possible. Ongoing, lower-stakes assessment is key to this process, and ‘evidence bank’ will be the defining phrase of the second half of the spring term. The next two years will tell us if this has been successful - if it has, then perhaps it’s time to reopen the debate around the role exams play in our education system.
Child poverty is firmly on the agenda. Those who work with young people have known for years about the scale of deprivation some of our students face, but often this has been dismissed as an exaggeration or scaremongering. Now, a series of successful and high-profile campaigns spearheaded by the wonderful Marcus Rashford have drawn attention to the reality of life for the poorest children in the UK. The fight is not over, and the coming months will be vital in ensuring these children are not left further behind, but awareness is the first step. The £1billion of catch-up funding now available to schools will be a huge boost in closing the gap, as well as an opportunity to invest in opportunities and areas of the curriculum that were previously out of reach.
Many are recognising the huge importance of teachers. If you have made it through the past year without either seeing or being forwarded a TikTok depicting the reality of homeschooling then you are surely in the minority. In between the satirical videos, there is a strong and genuine recognition now for the work teachers do, and the importance of education in giving young people the best start to life. We always knew this, of course, but thanks to the pandemic schools have gained a level of appreciation usually only reserved for things after they have, even briefly, been lost.
Going back to school will never feel better! If lockdown has confirmed anything, it’s that teachers get into teaching because of the students, and daily interactions with them are what make the more challenging aspects of the job worth it. Your classroom is waiting for you and there will come a time when you are standing at the front of a class again, welcoming them back, and preparing to teach your first lesson - that’s definitely something to look forward to.
We are now halfway through the academic year, with many more challenges ahead - but there are plenty of reasons for optimism too. Half term is around the corner, bringing with it not just brighter mornings but also the promise of some solid ground when the Ofqual consultation results are shared. Whatever the outcome, schools will be able to put plans in place and a route out of the current uncertainty will emerge. This has not been an academic year to remember, but it shouldn’t be written off yet either.