With the UK Government predicting that Covid-19 will continue to impact individuals and businesses for at least the next six months, the education sector will be particularly affected.
As pupils returned to classrooms in the past few weeks, coronavirus outbreaks have been reported at dozens of schools in England and Wales. Staff shortages and loss of lesson time are worsening following the summer lockdown, and educators are concerned about future resources, staff recruitment, intervention requirements and SEND needs. However, some leaders are predicting positive long-term impacts for schools and teachers, and opportunities to find creative solutions to long-standing challenges.
Here are five ways that the coronavirus pandemic will impact the education sector in the UK and around the world.
The Educational Impact of Covid-19
- Staff & Skills Shortages
Staff shortages could rise in the next few months as schools grapple with isolation requirements. Jules White, Head Teacher and organiser of the WorthLess? Network of over 5,000 Heads, reports growing frustration at the lack of access to testing. White believes that an ability to get tested is driving teachers to isolate and that ‘serious staff shortages’ could force partial closures for schools around the country.
The UK Government responded to these worries with the statement that testing levels have increased and that ‘testing capacity is the highest it has ever been’. A Government spokeswoman commented, ‘Children who are self-isolating will receive remote education. We will continue to work with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.’
The long-term effects of Covid-19 could also be felt in the numbers of reduced teaching staff. The UK’s chronic teacher shortage has been worsening in recent years. Whilst secondary pupil numbers in 2019 were the same as in 2007, the numbers of teaching staff fell by 7%.
As secondary pupil numbers are expected to rise by 10% between 2019 and 2023, the staff shortage could become an increasingly urgent challenge. NQTs are also being lost to the profession in high volumes, and the teacher exit rate is growing across all areas. One in 5 leave education completely after their first two years, whilst 4 in 10 leave after five years. When combined with travel and quarantine restrictions delivered by Brexit and Covid-19, schools are facing greater recruitment challenges than ever before.
However, a surprising side effect of the pandemic could prove a long-term solution to the shortages. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) predicts that the recession following the Covid-19 pandemic will actually reduce skills shortages. The EPI predicts that, due to ‘job security and stable wages’, around 1,800 more University graduates will enter teacher training programmes over the next two years – a significant boost to the current average of around 29,000 annually. The education sector could utilise the negative impacts of the pandemic as an opportunity to increase careers awareness and engage new potential talent in more diverse areas, for the benefits of schools, teachers and pupils.
- Intervention Focus
Following national and local lockdowns, lost lesson time has seen students across Key Stages fall behind and needing help with a variety of subjects. Intervention and pupil support will become even more important in the coming months and years.
The Department for Education reports a higher absence rate among pupils this term so far. Official figures found that 88% of pupils are currently attending school, far below the 95% attendance figure for the same term in 2019. The presence of Covid-19 symptoms in pupils and staff and resulting isolation requirements means that large groups of students, including entire year groups, have been sent home for multiple days. Looked after children and young people from low income families will be particularly disadvantaged by the pandemic at crucial stages in their education.
Official guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has already added pressure to educators and leaders. Heads and Governors are required to plan for and make preparations to ensure the continuity of education in the event of national and local lockdowns. Additional tuition is set to rocket in popularity and frequency, with remote tutoring becoming a standard choice for parents and schools. Whilst enabling social distancing requirements for 2020 and the beginning of 2021, the ability to access the best teachers from across the country in an instant could make remote tuition a permanent fixture in education.
With over 10 years’ experience working with intervention and supportive services, Prospero Tutoring offers tailored support for pupils who are most in need. To assist in tackling the current and future challenges resulting from Covid-19, we have created additional services which include support for disadvantaged and looked after children.
Find out more about our intervention services.
- Examinations & Qualifications Revolutionised
The coronavirus saw GCSE and A Level exams cancelled, postponed or undergo major changes in the UK. Many European countries adapted their assessment systems with the aim of best supporting students working towards college or University. Spain’s University entrance exam were allowed to choose three out of five examination questions, and were not examined on anything studied since the March lockdown in mid-March. Half a million Italian students were able to take the oral exams for their high-school diplomas whilst wearing masks. France cancelled its entire examination programme for this year and instead awarded an average grade for each subject based on coursework and tests during the first two terms. The Netherlands cancelled central leaving exams in favour of awarding final marks based on coursework and tests created and conducted by individual schools.
In the coming years, educators are concerned that the hurried changes will set unrealistic standards for the generations immediately following this year’s school leavers. Invigilators across several countries reported slight or significant increases in the achievement of higher grades, leading to a shortage of University and college placements in 2020 and raising the bar for entrance exams compared to recent years. The future careers of young people may be impacted by the discrepancies in this year’s assessments, and education bodies may find it increasingly difficult to maintain equal and fair assessment methods for succeeding year groups.
The innovation and creative thinking enforced by the pandemic has also led many educators and invigilators to question current methods of assessment. With gender a known factor in exam performance and disadvantaged groups less able to access the tools necessary for homework and coursework, a long-term change that combines different approaches could make the education system fairer for all children. Allocating more weight to teacher assessment would provide the opportunity to treat each child as an individual and deliver highly accurate assessments, not only of attainment but of potential.
- Digital Transformation of Learning
As Covid-19 has brought home working, video conferences and digital team socialising to businesses around the world, the technology revolution will also extend to the public sector. Whilst the in-person interaction between students, teachers and classes is invaluable, technology has already been helping educators supplement the learning experience by providing vital online access to classes and support during difficult times.
A wealth of online resources as the norm could help teachers and parents outside of the classroom, with 5G and digital support aiding young people in homework and coursework. In preparation for future pandemics and crises, Augmented Reality (AR) could become a regular feature of lesson planning to enable children globally to experience a virtual classroom environment when physical classrooms are inaccessible. Virtual Reality (VR) and gamification could help teaching staff provide immersive lessons that engage students and personalise the learning experience for each child.
Anna Canato, Head of Education at the European Investment Bank, predicts that technology could change the future of education. Canato states, ‘As we speak, 156 countries have partially or completely shut down schools to contain the spread of COVID-19 and this shutdown affects 82% of learners worldwide. Education systems, also in developed countries, were not highly prepared for this kind of situation. This is something that needs to change for the future.
‘I believe—and here I speak as a parent—that we are all seeing a lot of digital alternatives for teaching. Yet, all these alternatives are still suboptimal compared to what we see and experience when our kids go to school, no matter the level of schooling. What will need to change in the future is that countries, schools, regions will have to think how they want to prepare themselves for a situation like this one, and they will be forced by this experience to think how they could better integrate distance learning in what they do.
‘All levels of education, and above all higher education and adult training will start considering how they can better blend digital education in their operations.’
- Mental Health & Wellbeing for Students and Teachers
At the beginning of 2020, mental health in the education sector was fast becoming an urgent issue. Ahead of the pandemic, one in 20 teachers have a ‘mental health problem lasting more than a year’. Whilst 5% of the total number of teachers may sound small, this figure has risen by 400% in the past two decades – and poor mental wellbeing is closely aligned with high attrition rates. Research from the Department for Education (DfE) found that ‘sleeping problems, panic attacks and anxiety issues’ had all contributed to teachers’ decisions to leave the profession.
Although lockdown, social distancing measures and physical health worries have worsened mental wellbeing for many sufferers across vocations, educators have seen stress skyrocket alongside increased workloads and concerns around intervention and safeguarding for vulnerable children. However, following the visibility and support for essential workers during lockdown, the wellbeing of education employees could jump to the top of the agenda in a post-pandemic world. A DfE spokesperson states that the UK Government are investing in plans to improve work-life balance in the education sector: ‘This includes reducing workload, supporting early career schoolteachers, promoting flexible working and tackling accountability pressures, as well as supporting schools to deal with behaviour management.’
Prior to Covid-19, one in eight children aged between 5 and 19 years old had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. The lack of routine, interaction with friends and loss of learning time has worsened In a recent study by the University of Oxford, parents and carers of children aged 4-10 reported increases in their child’s emotional difficulties, in addition to new challenges with attention and behaviour, with some worries causing physical illness.
The pandemic has further highlighted the increased challenges of children and young people with poor mental wellbeing who are also looked after or disadvantaged. Pupil safety and safeguarding will be the highest priority for schools and colleges in the next few months. In the coming months and years, guidelines could go beyond hand washing and reduction of class sizes to take a holistic view of every child’s journey through education. Building on the collaboration needed to produce Covid-19 guidance, the DfE, Governors, Heads and unions could work together to formally establish schools as centres of family support and community wellbeing in addition to centres of education.
Prospero’s Safeguarding Young People course offers free online training to safeguard students in your care. The CPD-accredited course covers everything you need to know about protecting vulnerable children who are returning to the classroom this term.
With schools now busier than ever, thousands of job opportunities are available for Autumn 2020 and beyond – take a look at our latest teaching jobs.