Restoring parent confidence in UK state schools

As the gates to England’s schools prepare to unlock this September, many parents and carers have been left worried about their children’s development and the effect of missing school as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.  

The majority of school lessons in 2020 have taken place remotely, yet the experience of many of those children being taught remotely differs markedly across the country. As an example, the Office of National Statistics showed in July that 5 to 10-year-olds spent a mere 10 hours per week doing schoolwork, rising to 16 hours per week for 11 to 15-year-olds. 
To add to the matter, in April, the Sutton Trust and Public First revealed that pupils at private schools were more than twice as likely to receive daily online tuition than their state educated peers. This is telling, as it suggests that confidence in state schools has taken a hit, and consequently, places at private schools have jumped by as much as 30%.
If parent confidence is to return and grow to post-COVID levels, it will be vital that schools and teachers are able to accommodate all different types of in-class and remote learning, simultaneously.


Resistance to change
Traditionally, the education sector has been resistant to change and prior to Covid-19 research conducted by Ofsted found that some schools had a deep embedded school culture resistant to change. However, the last six months have demonstrated how quickly schools can adjust and the important role that technology had to play in making this possible.
During lockdown, technology became a lifeline for schools. The fast adoption of tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom and Oak Academy proved the power technology had in helping teachers to deliver lessons remotely and enable collaboration with students at home. This is despite our research  earlier this year revealing that only a quarter (27%) of teachers were confident using the technology provided by their school which could suggest this resistance to change is also impacting a school’s technological approach.
During 2020, we have seen schools adapt to a digital culture much faster than we could have imagined. In the face of unprecedented challenges, schools and teachers have stayed committed to delivering lessons remotely to millions of children across the UK; and all of us in education should be applauding their creativity, dedication and commitment.
It is clear that attitudes towards technology are changing, yet to restore faith in the UK’s state education requires schools to improve further. This long needed transformation must entail a more digitally focused strategy that embraces and builds on the learnings towards technology during Covid-19.
Continuity strategy
Crucially, schools must implement a strategy that includes the right base technology, proper teacher training so students can get the most from it, and a change management plan that will facilitate a high standard of education for every child, wherever they are being taught.
As we move forward from lockdown, schools must prepare and execute the right continuity plans where teachers - the backbone of schools - feel supported to use technology more frequently. That way schools can ensure technology becomes an important tool to navigate a hybrid classroom.
Given that 61% expect to begin the next school year in a hybrid learning environment – a mix of remote and in-person learning – and 87% expect to use technology more in physical classrooms, every UK school must be prepared for this. There are many remote teaching platforms which are already in place – and schools who are yet to invest in one can apply for DfE funding – which will bring long lasting benefits over and above teaching remotely, such as reducing the number of hours spent preparing for and following up after a lesson.
Realistically, schools need to be prepared for the risk of further local lockdowns that may mean not every child will be able to attend the classroom in the autumn, and it is relieving that the latest guidance from the Government on the full opening of schools takes this into account, so it’s essential schools plan and prepare a classroom that ensures children and teachers have access to the necessary technology, tools and training.
A learning curve
The right plan will allow teachers and pupils to have the right equipment, run staff meetings across multiple sites, engage more easily with parents, encourage pupils to collaborate on documents jointly and, even enrich lessons with pre-prepared content. Although more importantly, it is fundamentally a necessity to bridge the learning gap created by the pandemic and any future potential national or local lockdowns.
The schools that will be able to run an effective post-lockdown classroom will be those that have restored parent faith in UK state schools. Rather than looking on lockdown negatively, it should instead be the catalyst for taking our education system to a completely new level. As American psychologist, Carl Rodger’s said, “the only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn …and change.”  
As our state schools start to re-open in England and Wales, the first step will be to ensure schools and teachers have a clear understanding of what to do, access to the different methods to facilitate a post-Covid school environment, and the confidence to put them into place. Only then can parents be reassured that their children are getting the best possible education – one that has been made possible by a more digitally focused strategy that empowers teachers and students to achieve the best results possible.

Simon Carter, Director at RM Education