We are in the sixth week of school closures (or partial closures). UNESCO’s global monitoring of school closures identifies 188 country-wide shutdowns due to COVID-19 affecting over 1.5 billion learners. That is 89.5% of the world’s enrolled learners. With the timeline still unclear for when and how all schools are to be reopened, Nesta has nationally surveyed over 7000 teachers via Teacher Tapp* to better understand the challenges that they have been facing over the last few weeks, and the hurdles they are anticipating to come.
Chief concern was the impact that closures were having on the most disadvantaged students with 61% of teachers agreeing that the widening of the attainment gap was the key issue. Data shows that the school holidays and time away from school exacerbate the achievement gap as the more disadvantaged students have less access to cultural, developmental and educational activities, increased food insecurity and isolation. Existing research suggests that “the prolonged summer break has an accumulative effect in educational outcomes and may be one of the most fundamental, yet least acknowledged, contributors towards the attainment gap between richest and poorest children, accounting for almost two-thirds of the gap by the time children reach the age of 14”.
In a feat of mass adaptation, we have seen schools, teachers and pupils turn to technology in order to continue remote learning to mitigate the losses to educational progress. However, Sutton Trust research reports that 34% of students aged 5-16 do not have access to their own device, while our research with TeacherTapp showed that, in all but the most affluent schools, an average of 55% of teachers were concerned about students not having sufficient equipment to engage with learning provided online.
Nesta Education welcomes the recent move from the Government announcing the provision of laptops or tablets for disadvantaged 15-year-olds and 4G routers to help some families get online. However, we know that supporting disadvantaged young people is far wider and far deeper than additional devices, as the ultimately unsuccessful initiative One Laptop per Child initiative revealed. As continued research shows, additional elements are crucial to ensure that children have the best chance at achieving educational goals. Elements such as, training on how to use the devices and tools provided; technical support; a quiet room for working, and good quality pedagogy not just access to good quality content.
Of the teachers we surveyed, 42% said that CPD is the most useful form of support they could be given. In addition, reports from our EdTech Innovation Fund grantees such as FireFly,Hegarty Maths and investee Sumdog, tell us that their teacher support webinars have never been better attended, as teachers look to their own means to bolster their knowledge. The moves by the Government over the last week have focused on the provision of tech and online lesson content. These are both necessary, but there hasn’t been enough attention given to supporting teachers. Teachers need training to help them transition from face-to-face teaching in classrooms, to teaching online in a way that supports learning, engagement and effective feedback and assessment.
School closures have shone a light on how multifunctional a teacher’s role is to families and communities. Amid the scramble to provide continued learning, it is important to maintain this recognition and support the broader translation of these multifaceted roles into the online setting.
Lisa, a teacher at a college in Devon and Future Ready Fund grantee, told us “the last few weeks have been a real testament to how adaptable teachers are. We’re having to relearn pedagogy in a totally new set up and adapt safeguarding policies to communicate with children at home. Whilst there has been an incredible response at grassroots level, there is little centralised advice. What we really need is training on working across tech platforms and engaging and monitoring students progress from afar.”
School leaders and teachers need support to help them transition from face-to-face teaching in classrooms, to teaching online in a way that supports learning, engagement and effective feedback. With teachers spending more time at their desks than ever before, now is the time to prioritise the delivery of high quality teacher training for maximum impact.
Finally, we know tech alone cannot protect the learning of young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also understand that this current climate could be useful to allow teachers to identify the helpful ways that tech can help teaching. However, we maintain that supporting teachers and thinking about providing wrap around support is essential as we all try and embrace this new normal.
Teacher Tapp is the largest nationally representative survey of teachers in England. Each day at 3:30pm, over 7000 teachers answer questions about schools on their phones. The responses are re-weighted to ensure they reflect the geographical and demographic profile of the workforce across England.
This survey results used are collected from the time period: 13-15th April 2020