During the Covid-19 pandemic students from around the world had their schools closed. A daily activity was upturned. Homeschooling became the norm for those who were able to. But the space, time and support to do so is something of a privilege, and not everyone was able to, resulting in slips in attainment for some. At the same time, teacher workloads increased and burnout was rife, leading to a displeasure with the profession.
We’re facing an education gap.
A shortage of teachers
The pandemic has been tough on teachers – in fact an increased workload and impact on wellbeing, on top of other factors means that at the end of the last lockdown a third reported that they were planning to quit within the next five years. This mass exodus hasn’t quite happened yet, but does mean that we are lingering on the edge of an education emergency gap as a result of Covid-19. Whilst that means there will be more jobs available for overseas teachers looking to relocate and teach in the UK, it also creates an immediate gap that needs plugging.
Key skills affected
The biggest impact has been on maths and literacy, the core subjects needed in learning, which underpin the rest of the curriculum. As well as meaning that teachers in these fields will have to spend more time upskilling their students, time has also been taken from other subjects such as the humanities and arts. This doesn’t solve the problem, but masks it. It means that teachers will have to put more effort and energy into basic key skills before being able to progress onto the specifics of their subject.
Widening disparities in achievement
It is estimated that around a third of learning days and output were lost during the pandemic and lockdowns. There were fewer contact hours, less work got done, and the curriculum was not covered in full. Young people who were already able to work independently continued to do so and did not fall behind as far as peers who for various reasons (skills, digital access, special educational needs, health conditions, home support) were unable to progress in the same way they might in the classroom. Economic disparity has been huge, with many people from poorer sections of society not having access to the digital devices needed for home learning set ups. The Bridge Renewal Trust works with schools in the local area of Haringey, London. They found that only 4% of pupils on one estate were engaging with homeschooling – when they gave them all laptops it increased to 96%.
The impact on student mental health
School was open, and then closed, and then open for a day before someone in a family caught Covid and everything was closed. Simply put, students and pupils never really knew what was happening. Social distancing meant that one week students were huddled together around a table learning, and the next they had to keep well away from their peers. This created a lot of uncertainty and unease for young people, and child and adolescent mental health issues have increased, with one in three saying their mental health got worse during the pandemic. Teachers are often the frontline of support for young people, and have to be aware of any changes in behaviour, monitor wellbeing, provide help and signpost where needed. But this does take its toll and could result in teachers choosing to leave the profession. It’s worth finding out from your school if there is any mental health training, what good wellbeing measures are in place for students, and what support is available to you.
But that’s not to say the long term impact will be a bad one, and we can learn a lot from how we adapted and evolved. Teaching should be something that develops, and great teachers are always looking to improve and upskll. One thing that has become very clear is that one size certainly does not fit all, and we need more adaptable and personalised models of teaching that allow every individual to flourish in the best way possible. It’s not only on individual teachers to do this, but there will be implications for wider policy making.
We have to learn from the ways that the pandemic changed teaching and learning, as we seek to fill the education gap. The UK needs great teachers who are innovative and creative and are focused on supporting every student, regardless of skills and needs. Only with the right teachers will students achieve their potential.