How the pandemic has changed the education system

‘As lockdown has proved, there is no one size fits all for education’
BY Caroline Wright, director general, British Educational Suppliers Association

The past 12 months show clearly what is possible when the education system and wider community pull together with shared purpose. Our nationwide response to the essential closure of education settings and institutions during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in the UK saw parents, childcare workers, teachers, lecturers, school leaders, industry, celebrities, civil servants and government unite behind the aim of helping educate our children during a time of crisis. 

The nation’s collective and awe-inspiring effort has helped limit the longer-term impact of the pandemic on many children. Without these efforts, the damage and lost-learning to this COVID generation could have been even greater. The challenge is, of course, still significant and I welcome the government’s appointment of catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins, who will be leading a co-ordinated charge to help support children and learners over the coming period.

The government’s 2019 edtech strategy, masterminded by the then education secretary Damian Hinds, was underpinned by an understanding and commitment of the benefits edtech, when delivered effectively, brings to reducing teacher workload burdens, personalised learning approaches, assessment, system leadership and communication. 

Promising early results were achieved by a number of the strategy’s key initiatives, including the Chartered College of Teaching’s online edtech support, the LendED EdTech lending portal and the LearnED teacher continuing professional development (CPD) roadshows before the arrival of COVID-19 rewrote the normal operating procedure for the UK’s education sector.

The pandemic also exposed areas where more investment is needed. Lockdown meant access to school devices during the day and after hours to homework clubs was impossible for those students most in need and the nation’s digital divide has been laid out starkly, in terms of access to connectivity, kit and content.

I’m proud that British Educational Suppliers Association members stepped up to provide an answer to the content challenge, providing £36 million in free educational resources and support to schools and families during the initial three months of lockdown alone. 

The edtech sector became an unofficial emergency service, supporting school-home communications and stepping in to provide additional training and CPD to teachers to help them navigate and use unfamiliar digital tools effectively to aid online teaching and learning.

The Department for Education has acted too with a series of initiatives such as the COVID-premium, the National Tutoring Programme (although there is a missed opportunity here given the exclusion of digital curriculum resources from the programme currently) and other devices and data schemes to support schools and learners. 

These efforts are to be welcomed, but what must follow is a revised and updated edtech strategy and approach to address the challenges and opportunities that experts from the teaching community, industry and parliament have identified, as evidenced in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Edtech’s Lessons from Lockdown report published in March.

It will be important that any future government interventions recognise and celebrate, rather than stifle, the expertise and autonomy of school leaders and multi-academy trusts in supporting their school communities, alongside the innovation and creativity of the UK’s vibrant edtech sector. 

As lockdown has proved, there is no one size fits all for education. Each young person deserves to receive the individual package of support they need to help reimmerse themselves in their education environments and enjoy the very best of the inspirational learning opportunities that are available thanks to our talented teachers and school leaders.

The edtech industry looks forward to working together with policymakers, practitioners, parents and pupils to help develop and deliver an edtech offer that will be fit for the post-pandemic needs of pupils and young people.