By Anna Noble
Exams are not the only thing that has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic – education as a whole is at risk. In England (and many of the devolved nations), students will have completed, at most, a term of in- person education. Even when pupils were back at school in the Autumn term, a considerable portion of students will have had to take time off to self-isolate. The reality is that students may lose a year of education.
Studies have shown that many pupils are not keeping up with online education. For some students this is due to a lack of resources, support or a space to work. Ofcom estimate that between 1.1- 1.8 million children in the UK (9 per cent) do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.
Whilst there have been some efforts by the Government and companies to provide devices and internet options to help facilitate online education, there is a general consensus that these have not significantly addressed the issues. The Government has fallen short of providing concrete policies to mitigate this.
The Government has two major issues: how to safely re-open schools and how to compensate for lost education. Schools need to open as soon as possible. Children are falling further behind every day; some are at risk of not receiving the basic standard of education.
One solution proposed by teaching unions and backed by Labour is for the Government to prioritise the vaccinations of teachers to greatly prevent transmissions. The Government have rejected this strategy, arguing that re-allocating vaccines will extend lockdown.
The reality is that students may lose a year of education
Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that schools must be a priority: our country cannot afford to leave a generation behind in terms of education. Delaying a return to schools is more likely to disadvantage lower income families and increase the economic divide in pupil attainment. Whilst there is no perfect solution, vaccinating teachers in order to achieve a quicker return to the classroom should not be dismissed.
Re-opening schools is only half the problem. The Government and education chiefs must find a way to mitigate the disruption of the pandemic to education.
One suggestion has been allowing students that have fallen significantly behind to repeat the year. Statistically speaking, the pupils who have fallen furthest behind are those coming from ‘disadvantaged’ or low-income backgrounds; these are the students most likely to need to repeat the year.
This could be damaging to students as many are likely to feel they are being punished for circumstances out of their control. This could also, in the short term, impact the number of ‘disadvantaged’ students applying for higher education. Holding pupils back is also likely to increase class sizes. Such a strategy would also require a significant amount of funding.
Summer school is a potentially better solution. Children would not be held back from their peers, the impact on higher education may be lessened and class sizes would be less affected. It would also provide childcare for working parents who have struggled over the pandemic. However, the psychological impact of forcing selected children to attend school during the summer holidays could be significant. There is also the question of whether you can fit a year’s worth of work into six weeks. This solution would also be costly.
A final suggestion is that the Government provides tutoring for pupils who have fallen behind due to the pandemic. Whilst this is potentially the best solution, it is also practically unachievable. Millions of children will have fallen behind due to the pandemic. Are there enough tutors to accommodate this? This would be extremely costly. Therefore, perhaps the best solution is a combination of all three. Funding for schools to run summer schools to catch pupils up, additional funds for the students who still need it to receive tutoring, and finally as a last resort the opportunity for some pupils to repeat the year. The Government must choose to invest in a generation, or they are going to risk losing one.
Image by Nenad Stojkovic via Creative Commons