The mammoth challenges facing teachers

‘Teachers have supported our nation's children throughout the crisis and it is now the time to support them’
Caroline Wright, Director general, British Educational Suppliers Association

Teachers have worked tirelessly to educate pupils during lockdown, both in schools and at a distance. School-leaders are now rising to the next challenge: welcoming pupils and students back to school this month.

The British Educational Suppliers Association’s (BESA) quality-assured suppliers are helping schools to prepare and adapt their existing classrooms, technologies and remote-education platforms so students can access learning in as safe a manner as possible, whether in school or from home. 

Over recent months, school-leaders have highlighted key challenges that will become priority issues for schools when their doors reopen. Headteachers will first and foremost focus on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of those children who have suffered trauma or bereavement during the lockdown period.

How lost learning impacts earnings

Leaders will also look to assess the extent of students’ lost learning and identify targeted interventions to support catch-up. This will be all the more important given the Royal Society’s DELVE group’s finding that England’s student population is now one tenth of a standard deviation behind where it should be in terms of outcomes. 

If this sounds trivial in nature, the consequences it will produce are not. On the economic front, the coronavirus-cohort’s future earnings are projected to be permanently reduced by 2 to 3 per cent a year, at a cost of £3 billion a year to the economy.

On a societal level, COVID-19 risks disadvantaging the already disadvantaged. Those with lower levels of educational attainment are already five times more likely to live in poverty than others. In light of reports that the attainment gap has increased by between 36 and 52 per cent over lockdown, COVID-19 risks exacting a generational cost. 

Digitally, schools are way behind

This makes it even more important that schools are provided with sufficient resources now. Edtech solutions can prove effective in boosting attainment, using adaptive-learning technology to focus on specific areas where students need extra help and support, providing bespoke feedback and insights to classroom teachers on progress.

Educators working in schools have adapted to working from home during lockdown, but unlike business environments where “connectivity is king”, many schools do not have the digital infrastructure built in to enable large-scale use of technology. In BESA’s pre-COVID survey, 33 per cent of primary and 11 per cent of secondary schools reported that their digital connectivity was poor. Schools will need additional funding and support to ensure their digital infrastructure is future-proof. 

Our teaching workforce has made a Herculean effort to embrace technologies for the benefit of their learners. We need to ensure our teachers are provided with the ongoing training and support they need to embed and further develop their digital skills using free continuing professional development support from the Department for Education’s Edtech Demonstrator Programme, the Chartered College of Teaching and BESA’s conferences. 

Crafting a curriculum for blended learning

Finally, schools are rightly sourcing and developing rich curriculum plans that are adaptable to a blended learning environment, ensuring lessons and curriculum resources are available in formats that can be accessible both in school and remotely. Many schools already work with curriculum publishers to adapt content for their own specific circumstances and UK educational publishers provided more than £36 million of free curriculum resources to schools during the first three months of lockdown alone.

   Investment in, and effective use of, edtech is essential to help the UK’s nine million learners catch up the learning time lost during COVID-19. Our teaching workforce has supported our nation’s children throughout the coronavirus crisis and it is now the time to support them. Government must provide them with the technological infrastructure, tools and training to take their new-found digital confidence to the next level to ensure every child receives access to the education they deserve, in the classroom and beyond.