Equity in Education during COVID-19 and the Danger of “Microwave Equity”

Equity in Education during COVID-19 and the Danger of “Microwave Equity”

The last two years have been quite challenging for the world and for educators. First, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world for a while, and many learning institutions were closed as a result of the pandemic.[1] At the same time, the increasing strength of the anti-racism movement from the United States and across the world has highlighted the importance of equity, inclusion, and equality in education in such a time as this. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closure globally led to 1.6 billion children[2]missing out on education, which has further amplified the inequalities inherent in many education systems. In many regions around the world, for example, in Europe, groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on education may include students of minority migrant background, new language learners, disabled students, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others (LGBTQ+) students. My PhD research study on developing culturally inclusive teaching and learning environments in Ireland, funded by the Irish Research Council postgraduate scholarship and Galway Doctoral Research scholarship programmes, has caused me to reflect deeply on the concepts of equity, inclusion, and equality in education. Furthermore, my research and work with student-teachers, teachers, parents of minority migrant backgrounds, in Ireland and beyond, has further revealed the importance of an understanding that is all the more urgent in the context of the inequalities that will exasperate equitable and quality education for all learners in the era of COVID-19.

What is the difference between equality and equity?

The image to the left is a graphical representation of equality, while the image to the right represents equity 
Image credit: Maryam Abdul-Kareem

 

It is quite challenging to unpack the concepts of equality and equity in education, particularly the differences between these two concepts. It is critical for teachers to know the differences between these two concepts to ensure equitable learning for all students, especially in a time of crisis.

In the left image, everyone is provided with equal support to watch the football game. In the right image, everyone is equipped with differential supports that allow equitable access to the game.

It should be noted that understanding the differences between equity and equality is not straightforward. It is layered with many complexities. Therefore, the above image provides a basic representation of the differences between equity and equality.

In summary, equity is based on needs, that is, responding to students’ individual or specific needs in our classrooms to ensure quality teaching and learning. In contrast, equality is based on fairness, which means being fair to all, without acknowledging the additional challenges faced by some.

UN Sustainability Goals and

the importance of equity and inclusion in education

Many education systems around the world are concerned with the issues of equity and inclusion in policy and practice. However, more work needs to be done in developing and implementing equity and inclusion policies and practices in education, particularly in the current COVID-19 crisis. Equity can be explained as providing students with personalised support that overcomes potential hurdles such as poverty and minoritised cultural backgrounds.[3]While inclusion in education implies that all students, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds or disabilities, are accepted and fully catered to in mainstream school environments. In other words, ‘inclusion is about all students belonging’ in a classroom.[4] The concepts of equity and inclusion in education are not new. Global educational goals have long sought to advance the principles of equity and inclusion in education systems internationally. For example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 requires countries worldwide to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. The SDGs were passed in 2015 by United Nations member states as a holistic approach to ensure that countries around the world achieve equitable and sustainable development in different sectors of society by 2030. [5] However, recent reports by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) tasked with tracking the world’s progress in achieving SDG 4 presented that it is unlikely for the world to meet the targets of SDG 4 by 2030.[6]Unfortunately, the current humanitarian emergency of COVID-19 has further validated the reality of the findings of this new report on the impact of the pandemic in achieving the SDGs[7]

The role of teachers in addressing equity and inclusion in their classrooms

Moving forward, teachers can begin to address equity and inclusion in education with support from other educational stakeholders to ensure equitable learning for all students and developing peer accountability systems. Secondly, teachers can build better working relationships with students and their guardians/parents. Third, they can commit to continuous professional development programmes. Finally, teachers can promote equity and inclusion in their classrooms during this COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by constantly checking ‘whether what they are doing enables or empowers the students to help improve them.’[8]

Avoiding the quick fix of ‘Microwave Equity’

Cornelius Minor, a US-based educator, coined the term ‘Microwave Equity,’ which means teachers and educators attempting to achieve equity quickly or overnight. Instead, he warns, the work on equity in education takes time and patience. In his book, We Got This, Minor argued that to be equitable and inclusive, teachers need to intentionally listen to kids in achieving equity in the classroom, decentralise power by empowering students’ voices, and do the self-work without blaming students.

The push to introduce more equity in education is badly needed, but it comes at a time when teachers are already facing significant challenges and additional responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equity and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic

Teachers are crucial to achieving equity and inclusion in education, and the current crisis has further affected teaching and learning. The pandemic has denied millions of learners access to equitable and quality education.[9] Teachers, to a large extent, are critical stakeholders in helping to manage the crisis. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has further changed the nature of teachers’ work, e.g., many teachers were expected to switch to online teaching quickly. The burden of additional responsibilities placed on teachers in a crisis is not new. Research has shown that all humanitarian emergencies have affected teachers’ work. For example, in post-conflict Liberia, teachers’ responsibilities included serving as second parents, humanitarians, role models, parents, counsellors, guardians, unifiers, and psychologists to help students affected with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). [10] From the case of Liberia and in similar contexts, teachers can be adequately supported and performance improved when education stakeholders possess a deep understanding of the factors that limit their capacity to function effectively.[11] Therefore, placing the responsibility for achieving equity and inclusion solely on teachers is problematic. Educational stakeholders and the entire education system must be involved to make equitable and quality learning for all students a reality, even in the current era of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, school leaders in the United Kingdom took proactive steps and initiatives to provide support for teachers and promote sustainable good practices during the global pandemic. The research study finds that school leaders developed effective and pragmatic approaches to engage other stakeholders such as parents, pupils and policymakers, allowing learning to continue during the pandemic.[12] It is hoped that more attention will be given to having discussions on what equity and inclusion in education really mean in different contexts and levels of education. For example, regional educational research associations such as European Educational Research Association (EERA)  can engage existing platforms such as the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) conferences, within their network for educational researchers to continue to engage in discussion and research on issues of equity and inclusion in European education systems and globally. This knowledge and understanding will undoubtedly help concerned educational stakeholders working on equity and inclusion in education to address the challenges of ensuring an even playing field for all learners.
Seun B. Adebayo

Seun B. Adebayo

PhD Researcher, Research Supervisor, Teaching Assistant, NUI Galway

Seun B. Adebayo is currently a PhD Researcher, Research Supervisor and Teaching Assistant at the School of Education, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland (NUI Galway). His PhD study explores developing culturally inclusive teaching and learning environments in Irish schools.

Aside from his research study, Seun organises workshops on culturally responsive pedagogies for student-teachers at NUI Galway.

His research interests include education policy, teacher education and professional development, culturally responsive pedagogy, equity and inclusion in education, progressive education reforms, practitioner/action research, education in conflict/post-conflict contexts, and quality education.

Seun has extensive work and research experiences with Aflatoun International, UNESCO HQ., UNESCO Office in Monrovia (Liberia), the European Research Council Executive Agency of the European Commission, the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, VSO International, Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), Education Development Trust and UNDP in New York.

ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Seun-Adebayo

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Royalseun

Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=anOwtUQAAAAJ&hl=en

References and Further Reading

[1] UNESCO (2021). Education: From disruption to recovery. https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse 

[2] Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (2022). Prioritizing learning during COVID-19. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/114361643124941686/pdf/Recommendations-of-the-Global-Education-Evidence-Advisory-Panel.pdf 

[3] Waterford (2020). Why Understanding Equity vs Equality in Schools Can Help You Create an Inclusive Classroom. https://www.waterford.org/education/equity-vs-equality-in-education 

[4] Giardina (2019). What does an inclusive classroom look like? https://inclusiveschools.org/what-does-an-inclusive-classroom-look-like/ 

[5] https://sdg4education2030.org/the-goal 

[6] UNESCO (2020). Inclusion and education: ALL MEANS ALL. Global Education Monitoring Report. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/in/documentViewer.xhtml?v=2.1.196&id=p::usmarcdef_0000373718&file=/in/rest/annotationSVC/DownloadWatermarkedAttachment/attach_import_d3682741-8fe5-4012-98c6-66d2bb13b7f0%3F_%3D373718eng.pdf&locale=en&multi=true&ark=/ark:/48223/pf0000373718/PDF/373718eng.pdf#p29 

[7] Shulla, K. (2021). The COVID-19 pandemic and the achievement of the SDGs. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s43621-021-00026-x 

[8] Adebayo and Chinhanu (2020).  Ubuntu in Education: Towards equitable teaching and learning for all in the era of SDG 4. NORRAG. https://www.norrag.org/ubuntu-in-education-towards-equitable-teaching-and-learning-for-all-in-the-era-of-sdg-4-by-chiedza-a-chinhanu-and-seun-b-adebayo/ 

[9] Moss and Bradley (2021). Education in a Post-COVID World: Creating more Resilient Education Systems. https://blog.eera-ecer.de/resilient-education/ 

[10] Adebayo S.B. (2019). Emerging perspectives of teacher agency in a post-conflict setting: The case of Liberia. Teaching and Teacher Education. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0742051X18300143?via%3Dihub 

[11]Tao, S. (2013). Why are teachers absent? Utilising the Capability Approach and Critical Realism to explain teacher performance in Tanzania. International Journal of Educational Development, 33 (1): 2-14 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257243592_Why_are_teachers_absent_Utilising_the_Capability_Approach_and_Critical_Realism_to_explain_teacher_performance_in_Tanzania 

[12]Beauchamp, G., Hulme, M., Clarke, L., Hamilton, L., & Harvey, J. A. (2021). ‘People miss people’: A study of school leadership and management in the four nations of the United Kingdom in the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational Management Administration & Leadership49(3), 375-392. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1741143220987841 

“Building back better” with Inclusive Learning Assessments

“Building back better” with Inclusive Learning Assessments

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have threatened inclusion and exasperated the existing inequalities in education. Across the globe, children with disabilities are more likely to suffer from learning losses (OECD, 2020).

During this crisis, in Europe it was reported that limited guidance from international organisations was available on inclusion, measures taken immediately were sometimes inadequate, digital education challenged inclusion, and limited support could be provided to vulnerable children and their families.

Internationally, the term, building back better is being increasingly used in the global call for making recoveries in the economy and society in the post-COVID world. Our research shows, that in this context, education systems need to consider the role of reliable and rigorous learning assessment data in the education of children with disabilities. Education stakeholders will have a true picture of learning only when children with disabilities are included in all forms of learning assessment. On the ground, data will help teachers to target teaching appropriately so that every child progresses in their learning.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) countries, many of which are in Europe, have started including children with disabilities in the assessment programme. Despite an increase in the participation of children with special needs in PISA over the administration cycles, they still represent below 3% of the total number of participants (LeRoy et al. 2019).

Equitable Learning Assessment in the Asia-Pacific Region

Let us move beyond Europe and look at the Asia-Pacific Region, where countries have diverse policies, barriers, preparedness, and progress when it comes to inclusive education and inclusive learning assessments in particular. In the Asia-Pacific region, there has been a sluggish transition to inclusive education (Wu-Tien, Ashman, & Yung-Wook, 2008; Forlin, 2010). Most countries have a dual system of schooling where children with moderate disabilities study in general schools and those with severe difficulties in special schools.      

Our review Equitable Learning Assessments for Students with Disabilities found that learning assessment practices vary across countries in the Asia-Pacific. Countries with a history of participating in national and international assessments try to make their assessments inclusive through accommodations. The review reported the use of testing accommodations in Australia, Hong Kong (SAR China), India, the Philippines, and Singapore in the Asia-Pacific region. However, children with severe disabilities or children who cannot be accommodated are left out. Some countries assess students with disabilities through formative methods (Chakraborty et al. 2019). It has to be kept in mind that inclusive learning assessments are an outcome of developments in inclusive education and advances in learning assessment.

Ideally, a single assessment should measure the learning of all students without the need for accommodations (Douglas et al., 2016). But in most education systems, accommodations are used to make assessments accessible to children with disabilities. However, the use of accommodations needs to be normalised in every level of testing – classroom, national, and international assessments (Chakraborty et al., 2019).

National-level policies on inclusive education and assessment practices determine to what extent children with disabilities are included in assessments. For example, in Hong Kong (SAR China), the SAME (Systematic Approach matching Mainstream Education) system provides access to children with disabilities to the central curriculum (Forlin, 2010). Similarly, specific country level mandates on assessment will support the inclusion of children with disabilities in classroom, national, or international assessments.

Across the world, teachers continue to face challenges in assessing students with disabilities (Hussu & Strle, 2010; Brookhart & Lazarus, 2017). In the Asia- Pacific countries, not many teaching staff have been trained in inclusive education (Sin, Tsang, Poon, & Lai, 2010). This is even true for Singapore, which has a reputation for high scores in international assessments. The Singaporean education system has short and less rigorous training for special educators (Walker & Musti-Rao, 2016).

Teachers as Agents of Change

Our review suggests that teachers are powerful change agents in making inclusive assessment a reality, especially in middle- and low-income economies. To enable this change, development partners should prioritise the professional development of teachers in the complex topics of inclusive education and learning assessments.

This training should include all teachers from pre-service (student teachers), in-service (part-time/full-time school teachers), to special educators. Along with this, professional development courses should be designed to eliminate stigma and prejudices about disabilities. Moreover, school leaders should be trained regularly as they are responsible for setting the culture for assessment and inclusion in schools (Chakraborty et al., 2019).

Investments in research and projects on inclusive education, professional learning, and learning assessments are critical for making advancements in the field of inclusive learning assessments. As education systems are being reshaped to close learning gaps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, strong partnerships between development partners, governments, and non-government organisations can contribute immensely to this area of inclusive assessment.

Anannya Chakraborty,

Anannya Chakraborty,

Senior Communications Officer, ACER India

Anannya Chakraborty started working in the international development sector after completing her Post Graduate degree in Social Development from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. In the last eight years, she has worked on various challenging social sector projects in the areas of research, knowledge management, and communications.
 
As a Senior Corporate Communications Officer at the Australian Council for Educational Research (India), Anannya works in global and Indian communications assignments along with commissioned research projects.
 
Before joining ACER, she has also worked on ethnographic qualitative research and social and behaviour change communication projects for international development.
 
Anannya has presented at international conferences and forums organised by the European Educational Research Association and UNESCO Bangkok.
Amit Kaushik

Amit Kaushik

CEO, ACER India

Amit Kaushik has been CEO of ACER India and a member of the Board of the Australian Council for Educational Research (India) since 2017. He specialises in consulting, policy planning, programme design, implementation, project management, monitoring and evaluation. His research interests include school management, quality improvement in education, skill development, non-formal education, inclusive education, and girls’​ education. From 2001-2006, Amit was Director, Elementary Education, in the Ministry of HRD, Government of India, where he was associated with the development and implementation of various policies related to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, as well as India’s international commitments on Education For All (EFA). Among other things, he worked closely on the 2005 draft of the Right to Education Bill, based on which The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was passed in 2009. He has been a consultant to UNESCO Paris, Nigeria, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as to UNICEF Iraq and Yemen, working with them from time to time on assignments related to literacy, planning for Education for All, non-formal education, accelerated learning and the Global Partnership for Education.

ACER India is an independent, not-for-profit research organisation providing world class research, educational products and services to India and the South Asia region.

Follow ACER India on social media:

References and Further Reading

‘Building back better’ may seem like a noble idea. But caution is needed https://theconversation.com/building-back-better-may-seem-like-a-noble-idea-but-caution-is-needed-154587

Building back better – a sustainable and resilient recovery after COVID-19 https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/building-back-better-a-sustainable-resilient-recovery-after-covid-19-52b869f5/

Building Back Better – achieving resilience through stronger, faster, and more inclusive post-disaster reconstruction https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/420321528985115831/pdf/127215-REVISED-BuildingBackBetter-Web-July18Update.pdf

The Impact of COVID-19 on Inclusive Education at the European Level  https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/COVID-19-Impact-Literature-Review.pdf

Students with special educational needs within PISA, (LeRoy et al. 2019) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0969594X.2017.1421523

 

Equitable learning assessments for students with disabilities https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1037&context=ar_misc

Developing and implementing quality inclusive education in Hong Kong: implications for teacher education (Forlin, 2010) https://nasenjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1471-3802.2010.01162.x

Including Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability in National Assessment: Comparison of Three Country Case Studies through an Inclusive Assessment Framework (Douglas et al., 2016) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1034912X.2015.1111306

The assessment of children with special needs (Hussu & Strle, 2010) https://cyberleninka.org/article/n/1191085

Formative assessments for children with disabilities (Brookhart & Lazarus, 2017) https://ccsso.org/sites/default/files/2017-12/Formative_Assessment_for_Students_with_Disabilities.pdf

Upskilling all mainstream teachers – what is viable? (Sin, Tsang, & Poon, 2010) https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9780203850879-37/upskilling-mainstream-teachers-viable-kuen-fung-sin-kok-wai-tsang-chung-yee-poon

Inclusion in High-Achieving Singapore: Challenges of Building an Inclusive Society in Policy and Practice (Walker & Musti-Rao, 2016) https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1114835.pdf

 

 

This thematic review Equitable Learning Assessments for Students with Disabilities has been funded by the Australian Council for Educational Research (India). The authors are grateful to Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP), UNESCO Bangkok for publishing the review.  

Full report: Chakraborty, A., Kaushik, A., & UNESCO Office Bangkok and Regional Bureau for Education in Asia and the Pacific. (2019). Equitable learning assessments for students with disabilities(NEQMAP thematic review).UNESCO Office Bangkok.https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000372301?posInSet=2%26queryId=e5a90c3e-c567-4f6a-9eeb-d2f712203481

Read about ACER’s ongoing review of professional development programmes on inclusive teaching and learning: https://www.acer.org/au/discover/article/reviewing-professional-development-programs-on-inclusive-teaching-and-learning

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

It is undisputed that Covid has had a massive impact on education and the way it is delivered, both in the UK and internationally. Whilst there have been a number of papers on the ways in which teachers have innovated during this time, and the impact this has had on their workload and mental health, there has been little on how school leaders and their senior teams have taken a strategic overview of online and blended learning. This post takes a look at a funded research project and explores why this area is so important for school leadership, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The recent pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges for school leadership teams and their staff. Almost overnight, they have had to create policies and working practices in a very short timeframe. One leader reported that a strategy meant to take three years had been achieved in three weeks!

In England, secondary schools have been shut down for the duration of two lockdown periods for all but the children of essential workers. Evidence from our pilot project suggests that school leaders have not only changed policies and practices but in many cases, their vision for education. The project, leading school learning through Covid 19 and beyond: online learning and strategic planning through and post lockdown in English secondary schools, investigates how senior leaders strategically planned for online learning – before, during, and after the pandemic. Our sample includes interviews with 70 senior leaders from English secondary schools, along with a questionnaire sent out via project partners to 4000 schools, and an analysis of 200 school websites.

 

level I – this is the lowest level of digital planning, in which technology is used passively by particular teachers in particular subjects to support learning. This level is termed – substitution. Level II this is where traditional pedagogy is adapted for online, this level is termed – augmentation. Level III – modification – this is where strategic thought is given to the design of online learning and enhancements that add value are implemented. Level IV – strategic planning for online learning – this links to a whole school or departmental approach.
Figure 1 : Strategic Planning for Online learning: Level 1 to 4, adapted from Puntedura, 2021.

Our project classifies the different levels of strategic planning for online education, via an adapted version of Puntedura’s (Puentedura, 2010), SAMR Model, in which the lowest level of planning is termed substitution, the second level is termed augmentation, the third level is termed modification, and the final and most advanced level is termed strategic planning for online learning. (See figure 1). It adopts a strategy as a learning approach which we have used successfully in previous projects relating to educational leadership and management (Baxer & Floyd, 2019; J.  Baxter, 2020; J Baxter & John, 2021).

Challenges

Analysis of the pilot project suggests some key themes that are emerging in both qualitative and quantitative data. It is clear that school leaders made some substantial changes to the management of online learning in the period between the first lockdown in March 2020 and the second principal lockdown in the winter of 2020/ 2021. For example, school leaders reported considerable issues with hardware and connectivity, particularly during the first lockdown. Evidence suggests that they have subsequently been creative in acquiring these elements, ensuring that learners were properly equipped to engage with learning during lockdown two.  

One of the major categories that has emerged within the study is well-being and care: this in terms of both teacher and learner welfare. School leaders appear to have placed the well-being of their staff and learners first and foremost. They report considerable stress amongst staff, and challenges in relation to learners, particularly those with particular learning needs, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This aligns with the findings of a report by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Leaders have also reported the considerable investment of time needed in building the competencies of parents and carers. This has offered both challenges and opportunities with engaging parents more fully in the learning processes of their children. Communication with parents and learners, and not least in managing online teachers and teams, was also a challenge. Yet again, out of the crisis, there appears to have been some considerable learning taking place, with senior leaders speaking to SEN students and their carers, in some cases on a weekly or even daily basis.

Leaders report that one of the most important tasks during lockdown has been establishing a baseline for effective teaching. Some schools cut down on curriculum to focus on the essentials. Sorting out policies and protocols with staff, governors, and unions, has taken up a great deal of management time, but respondents largely feel that it has been a worthwhile task going forward.

Opportunities

There is considerable evidence of pedagogical innovation and creativity, particularly during the second lockdown when school staff were taken less by surprise. Leaders report evidence of new ideas being tried and tested by teachers, free from the normal constraints. They also report new roles being created as a result of an enhanced focus on digital learning. For example, a new head of digital strategy and innovation at one multi-academy trust; a new head of digital training and development for both teachers and parents in the same MAT.

There is also evidence that some senior leaders are beginning to view education in a different way: one head of a multi-academy trust had already brokered a relationship with Apple to move the whole curriculum online. New and innovative practices adopted during Covid, born out of necessity, are reported as now being ‘business as usual’. An example of this is parent evenings – once held face-to-face and often poorly attended, particularly in schools in challenging areas – which have been much more successful online. Several school leaders state their intention to continue this practice and extend it to governor meetings and, in some cases, staff meetings too.

 In terms of quality assurance, this is one area that presented school leaders with their biggest challenges. But from the second lockdown onwards, some schools had already introduced strategies for peer observation of teaching, virtual learning walks, and other innovations to promote and sustain good practice. Some respondents reported using online engagement statistics to measure learner engagement.

One particularly interesting area reported by one senior multi-Academy trust leader: a number of teachers and headteachers across over 15 schools reported that quieter pupils, those who didn’t normally respond well in class, had engaged far more fully with lessons when delivered digitally. This is a potentially intriguing area that could be taken forward concerning introverted students and their more extroverted peers.

Going Forward

The central part of the framework links to well-being and access to learning in the next concentric circle moving outwards, is trust, communication, data privacy. The next concentric circle contains four quadrants, four aspects of digital learning in secondary schools: one – design differentiated learning experience for all students; two – build competencies of teacher students parents and carers; three – collaborate in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core; four – develop the digital environment with a combination of approaches. Outside the circle are for headings these headings indicate that the subjects are overarching in relation to the other quadrants of the circle: pedagogical innovation, flexibility and partnership, resources and infrastructure, equity ability and inclusivity.

The pilot research has revealed some interesting findings that will be taken forward into the main phase. It has also resulted in a theoretical framework for our research. This is illustrated in figure 2.

As can be seen in the framework, we place well-being and access to learning central to the future development of digital innovation in secondary schools.

The second part of our framework includes:

  • designing a differentiated learning experience for students
  • the importance of building the competencies of teachers, students, parents, and carers
  • collaboration in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core
  • developing a digital environment via a combination of approaches.

We look forward to continuing our reporting on the project, which will give rise to a free online course for school leaders hosted on the Open University’s open learning platform.

 Further details of our project, or to take part, see our website at: https://www.open.ac.uk/projects/leading-online-learning/

 or follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Covid_EduLeader

References and Further Reading

Baxer, J., & Floyd, A. (2019). Strategic narrative in multi‐academy trusts in England: Principal drivers for expansion. British Educational Research Journal, 45(5), 1050-1071.

Baxter, J. (2020). Schemes of delegation as governance tools : the case of multi academy trusts in education under review.

Baxter, J., & John, A. (2021). Strategy as learning in multi-academy trusts in England: strategic thinking in action. School Leadership & Management, 1-21. doi: 10.1080/13632434.2020.1863777

Jewitt, K., Baxter, J., & Floyd, A. (2021). Literature review on the use of online and blended learning during Covid 19 and Beyond. The Open University The Open University

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management The Open University Business School

Dr Jacqueline Baxter is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education (SCILAB). She is Principal Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences and Elected Council Member of Belmas. She is outgoing Editor in Chief of the Sage Journal Management in Education (MiE) Her current funded research projects examine the interrelationship between trust, accountability, and capacity in improving learning outcomes; and the strategic management of online learning in secondary schools during and beyond Covid19.

Dr Baxter is based in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School.

She tweets @drjacqueBaxter and her profile can be found at: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/jab899. Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University

Dr Katharine Jewitt is a Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University. Katharine works across four faculties (Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies, Faculty for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, Faculty of Business and Law and The Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnership) and teaches at access, undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Professor Alan Floyd

Professor Alan Floyd

University of Reading

Alan Floyd is a Professor of Education and his research and teaching activity focus on two substantive areas: educational leadership and doctoral education. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Academic leadership
  • School leadership and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)
  • How people perceive and experience being in a leadership role
  • Distributed and collaborative leadership
  • Leadership development
  • Career trajectories
  • Identity Insider research and associated ethical issues
  • Supporting doctoral researchers
Education in a Post-COVID World: Creating more Resilient Education Systems

Education in a Post-COVID World: Creating more Resilient Education Systems

Schools across Europe have been at the forefront of dealing with the COVID crisis since it began in 2020, coping with different systems of attendance, new methods of learning, and changing government guidance on how to operate. Many education systems have found themselves under pressure in these circumstances. Not all have fared well.  Data from our research[1] tracking how primary teachers in England responded to the disruption provides some insights into whether and how COVID-19 can lead to more resilient education systems. Revaluing local knowledge is a vital element in rebuilding, reconnecting, and reimagining education after the pandemic.

Our data shows that local knowledge provides a more accurate guide to exactly what the problems are and, on that basis, can help determine what the most useful next steps might be.

One key decision that governments faced at the start of the pandemic was whether to close schools or keep them open, at a time when governments found it was hard to judge the risks for children’s health and well-being. Many governments resolved this choice by looking at what others were doing first. 

Here in England, the government opted for closure during the first wave, with schools staying open only for children of key workers or those judged vulnerable. In June, just a few age groups were allowed to return. Since the start of this academic year, all schools were instructed to stay fully open, even in regions with the highest number of infections. Staff or pupils who fell ill and their close contacts were expected to self-isolate.

To cover gaps in provision, the government passed emergency legislation which gave schools “a legal duty to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children unable to attend school due to coronavirus”. This decision has proved controversial in a system which is not equipped with sufficient digital devices and connectivity to ensure all pupils can benefit in this way. 

These decisions show how far politicians emphasised returning the education system to normal functioning as quickly as possible, fuelled by reports quantifying learning lost during the lockdown. Modelling the consequences of lessons lost, or volume of work returned has certainly created alarming scenarios of widening attainment gaps with severe consequences for the students involved. If teaching and learning are imagined as steady delivery of curriculum content to time and test dates, then “catching up” seems crucial. But is this the right reaction, or a product of insufficient local knowledge to make the right calls?

Research into teacher responses and priorities

By focusing our research on what was happening in real schools in real-time, we and colleagues at UCL Institute of Education have built a clearer picture of how primary teachers responded during the pandemic, their priorities as schools began to fully reopen, and the lessons learnt for the longer term. 

Our survey and interview data demonstrated that teachers were most concerned about pupil wellbeing.  On schools reopening, 76% of teachers thought pupil wellbeing was central with only 8% prioritising “Enabling students to catch up for missed learning”. Teachers thought parents’ priorities would broadly be in line with their own, with the benefits for children of socialising with their friends (54%) and the normality of settling back into school routines (65%) holding more importance than reassurance that children would catch up quickly in core areas of the curriculum (28%). Schools are about much more than curriculum delivery.

Strengthening school communities

Our research showed that teaching during lockdown was changing teachers’ perceptions of their school communities. Many teachers felt more aware of the impact of poverty on pupils’ lives, and recognised the difficulties some families experienced in supporting pupils’ learning at home. Feedback on home-learning highlighted the importance of creating tasks that children would enjoy.  Teachers worked hard to ensure that children without internet access had opportunities to learn offline. 

Many teachers working with our most disadvantaged communities played a key role in supporting families and communities by checking that families were not going hungry, that they had access to other avenues of support, where needed, and that the most vulnerable children were as safe as they could be. This kind of direct support for communities matters, yet it is often overlooked in the public debate on the value of education which frames it as a private rather than a public good.  

Looking ahead – the impact of testing and importance of community resilience

If the COVID crisis has revealed the depth of educational inequalities in societies where economic gaps have widened disproportionately, it can also lead to a re-evaluation of the good that schools can do. Looking ahead,

  • 77% of our respondents agreed with the statement, ‘If testing and inspection goes ahead as normal next year, schools serving the most disadvantaged communities will be unfairly penalised’.
  • 72% agreed ‘Schools have an important role in building community resilience that should be both recognised and funded’ and 73% considered ‘Primary education needs to begin again, with a broader definition of curriculum values and purposes’.
  • Only 4% thought ‘The best approach to supporting children through the crisis is ensuring they reach the expected standards in KS1 and KS2 assessments next year’.

Our research tells us that a narrow focus on repairing test scores is counter-productive. Slower processes of recuperation create firmer foundations for future learning, particularly when they build upon the knowledge teachers have gained from working with their communities during a period of disruption. 

Revaluing local knowledge is a vital element in rebuilding, reconnecting, and reimagining education after the pandemic.  Research can help in making more visible the voices of teachers and their communities and thus creating more resilient education systems.

References and Further Reading

[1] The research project, “A duty of care and a duty to teach: educational priorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis’. Funder: UKRI/ESRC Rapid Response to COVID call, project no. ES/V00414X/1. Researchers: PI: Gemma Moss. Co-Is: Alice Bradbury, Sam Duncan, Sinead Harmey, and Rachael Levy.  See 

Professor Gemma Moss

Professor Gemma Moss

Professor of Literacy, UCL Institute of Education

Gemma Moss is Professor of Literacy at UCL Institute of Education and Director of the International Literacy Centre.  She has written extensively about the evolution of literacy policy, gender and literacy, assessment, and the emergence of new knowledge networks in education.  She was a member of EERA council between 2016-18.

Dr Alice Bradbury

Dr Alice Bradbury

Associate Professor of Sociology of Education, UCL

Alice Bradbury is Associate Professor of Sociology of Education at UCL Institute of Education and Co-Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (0-11 years). Her research focuses on the relationship between policy and classroom practices and subjectivities in primary and early years education.

Caring for Those who Teach Online – Reflections from a Virtual Staffroom

Caring for Those who Teach Online – Reflections from a Virtual Staffroom

When schools and higher education institutions closed their doors in March 2020, some of the implicit and informal supports for teacher educators disappeared. As teacher educators migrated to new modes of teaching and learning, institutional supports such as IT upskilling, educational technologies, professional development, and assistance from HR were provided. However, many staff commented that the burden of the expectations placed on them often exceeded what they felt capable of responding to in a personal capacity. With this as the backdrop, I want to reflect on how staff in one institution developed more informal ways of supporting each other and building community in a time of isolation and fragmentation.

The imperative to create what Noddings calls ‘a climate in which caring relations can flourish’, and through which a sense of belonging can be maintained, led to us setting up a virtual staff room. The staff room doors opened for a coffee break from 11.00 to 12.00 every morning. To date, this has happened on over 120 occasions with more than 90 colleagues engaging in the staff room at different times. This casual drop-in space was hosted on Zoom with a reminder sent to all staff ten minutes before the room was opened. The live interaction was supported by emails, phone calls, and some shared photography and cooking projects.

As with any staff room, the tone was set by the people in the room at any given time.  Ultimately what emerged was a supportive conversational space which broke down barriers as people swapped the small details and intimacies of everyday living and allowed colleagues glimpses into one another’s lives. This online space was characterised by a framework of CARE: a space for free-flowing conversation on a range of topics from the sublime to the ridiculous, attention to each other, deepening relationships with colleagues, and an increasing empathy as we observed something of each other’s homes and family lives. What we learned from the virtual staff room is that each element of this framework of CARE has to be supported by a number of integrated principles for practice: presence, production, performance, persona, personal, pastoral, and peer-to-peer. 

Presence: Developing and maintaining a supportive space for conversation demands the fully engaged presence of the host in the virtual space. The host cannot dominate the conversation but will have to facilitate it. The continuity of having the same host, meeting at the same time, and sending a regular reminder, offered people a sense of assurance that some things stayed the same. As one colleague noted: ‘Just knowing that there are opportunities like this to connect goes a long way to help you feel more connected right away’.

Production: We learned that there should be no agenda or expectation of having to engage in quizzes or activities so that participants have the chance to ‘switch-off’ from having to do something. Participants wanted to ‘be’ with each other rather than to ‘do’.

Performance: Some personality types were comfortable adopting a virtual persona and spoke comfortably to the camera in the early stages of the virtual staff room, whereas it took others time to be comfortable in the space. Trying to ensure that all participants can be seen on one screen is vital for bringing quieter participants into the chat.

Persona: During the early weeks of meeting each other, there was a sense that participants were conscious of performing for the camera and projecting a positive persona. This mitigated against revealing what was really happening for them. Empathic conversations ensued when someone risked saying that things were not going so well for them.

Personal: The host has to ensure that people are introduced to each other as many colleagues may not have met in real-life. Deepening relationships in a CARE framework means that the virtual staffroom welcomed children, partners, and pets and provided glimpses of each other’s homes and gardens as part of caring for each other. In the words of one participant: ‘I like meeting people’s children and pets and seeing their homes and gardens – makes me feel more connected.’

Pastoral: Taking a CARE approach to hosting the virtual staff room will occasionally draw the host into providing pastoral support for some participants. CARE will sometimes call for actions that we might not have anticipated.

Peer-to-peer: CARE is ultimately a peer-to-peer activity based on the realisation, again in the words of a participant, ‘that we are in this together, I look forward to seeing the familiar faces.’ The virtual staff room extended people’s social network by creating new links and new modes of engagement between colleagues.

 

What began as an informal approach to caring for staff and keeping us connected with each other, the virtual staff room has become an example of how taking a CARE approach to an online space can provide a positive space for conversation, characterised by empathic attention to each other in our evolving relationships.

The door remains open, and the kettle is on.

Dr Sandra Cullen

Dr Sandra Cullen

Assistant Professor of Religious Education, Dublin City University

Dr. Sandra Cullen is Assistant Professor of Religious Education at Dublin City University where she specialises in second-level religious education. As Director of the ICRE (Irish Centre for Religious Education) she supports research and teaching in religious education in a variety of contexts. She is the APF (Area of Professional Focus) leader for Religious Education on the Doctor of Education Programme at DCU, and serves on the Executive of EFTRE (the European Forum for Teachers of Religious Education) and on the International Advisory Board of the Journal of Religious Education.