The Coronavirus crisis has shone a light on the many inequalities that exist in our society. The national lockdown, which resulted in schools closing to the majority of their pupils, has meant that educational inequality has increased. As a result of the school closures the work done over the last decade to improve outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable young people have potentially been reversed. State schools that serve impoverished communities have experienced a wide array of difficulties when attempting to deliver lessons online, whilst their wealthier counterparts have been able to offer a broad online curriculum. This uncertain period has also shown that schools are more than education providers. In their absence it has become clear that schools are central to a child’s welfare and to their sense of community. School staff who have taken the time to deliver lunches to pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals, the weekly calls home from schools to families to check in and the smiles on the faces of the students who have been given the opportunity to attend lessons in person all illustrate this. Ensuring that this sense of community remains and that the work of the last ten years is not lost should be at the forefront of education policy moving forward.
The plans for re-gaining the lost ground in the race for educational equality need to be personalised for each school based on their individual needs. The ability to hit the ground running in September is important, something which has been made difficult due to the tardiness in the government’s publishing of their plans. Maintaining as broad a curriculum as possible will mean that disadvantaged pupils will continue to increase their cultural capital and that they will not be restricted in their choices later in their academic careers. Targeted interventions in the core subjects for the students who need it should supplement this broad curriculum.
Students will return to school in September carrying different wounds with them. Some may be bereaved, others suffering from the varied consequences of isolation. Schools are going to play a crucial role in ensuring that these young people feel a renewed sense of belonging within the community. Providing pastoral care is something schools are used to doing but the increased demand for such support may mean that further funding and training is needed in this area. The financial consequences of the lockdown are going to be felt at the beginning of the new academic year which will leave many families with significantly less income. As a result of this, the economic status of the communities schools serve may change. After such a long period of uncertainty pupils will undoubtedly benefit from the structure and routines that school offers. With the right amount of focus on wellbeing and welfare and an emphasis on routines, students will be able to successfully re-integrate into the school community.
With the threat of a second wave of the virus, dedicating time to reflect on the last few months is of utmost importance. School leaders need to create a viable contingency plan that aims to provide all the pupils in the school, regardless of their year group, with high quality online resources. This would mean that a second period of school closures would not have such a detrimental effect on the children’s academic development.
Moving forward is going to be a lengthy process. It is important that we trust and value our education professionals whilst they undertake this arduous task with no guiding model to follow. Mistakes will be made, but as long as we are led by the principles of equality and community we will find a way out of this crisis.
Katie Holmes - Communications Lead