School closure should not create a lost generation

by Professor Deborah Eyre, Founder and Chair, High Performance Learning 

The coronavirus pandemic and school and college closures have exposed deep inequities within education around technology access, lack of support for vulnerable children and pupils with SEND, and communication to name just a few. 

Some would have us believe that remote learning is an inadequate education option and we need to get children back into classrooms quickly because that is where real learning takes place. Time out of school is lost time and we need to get back time by cancelling summer holidays, extending schools days and creating a catch up or recovery curriculum to compensate for lost time. The simple assumption in this is that time in school equals learning. But actually, that is to oversimplify. 

So, before jumping onto this bandwagon it is worth reflecting on what we know. High quality education is obviously of crucial importance. But many of us know of children who have not been in schools for significant periods but have still achieved very well. Children who have suffered longstanding illness, children whose families have taken them on extended visits to family overseas, children whose family have taken a gap year and travelled the world. A terrific teacher I know spent four years in a refugee camp with very little schooling and still succeeded when the opportunity came her way. 

Learning is not a linear process and a gap in learning is not disaster. As we prepare a return to school for some pupils let’s not cram the curriculum in a vain attempt to catch up. Let’s accelerate progress via a focus on both the affective and cognitive aspects of teaching and start with some principles that help us prioritise:

1.    The wellbeing of children is paramount and as we all know from Maslow’s triangle you need a sense of safety, love and belonging before you can learn well. So, re-establishing the bond between children and teacher and between children and their peers is time well spent.

2.    Remote learning has not been dead time. Pupils have been taught during this period and have learned new knowledge. It may be that they have covered less ground than if they had been in school but they have acquired knowledge. Indeed, some may have a greater depth of understanding of concepts covered because the pace has allowed for more thorough investigation, practice to master concepts and a personalised approach.  

3.    Within class variation will be greater than ever. The % of children accessing remote learning on a regular basis varies from over 90% in some schools to 35% in others, although in this fast-moving situation, there is a lack of reliable data. Different pupils will have had very different experiences in terms of access and support and some will have steamed ahead and others dropped back. It is worth spending time on bringing the group together and sharing what they know before ploughing on. 

4.    Disadvantaged children are our biggest concern. It is likely that these children have been the ones to miss out on remote learning and we need to address that. But they won’t catch up via a turgid diet of drill-and-test. If you want rapid progress then pitch at the same high level for them and build in extra support. Don’t dumb down or you will further disadvantage the disadvantaged.  

5.    Remote learning fosters independence. Remote learning has huge benefits in that it necessitates autonomy and resilience. Build on these new skills, don’t revert to a dependency culture. Help pupils reflect on their newly acquired skills and the way meta-cognition and self-regulation is helping them. Build it into their future schooling.   
Professor Deborah Eyre is Founder and Chair of High Performance Learning.  

Posted: 02/06/2020 11:55:54