Lost learning and its impact on the life chances of children is one of the steepest costs of COVID-19. Last month the government announced an additional £1.4bn of catch-up funding to add to the £1.7bn already pledged. Whilst the figures are eye-catching, the reception from the education industry was far from positive, with spokespeople describing the announcement variously as “woefully inadequate”, “dispiriting” and “a damp squib”.
These are sounds of frustration from school leaders with a mountain to climb and inadequate funding to do so. The government’s own ‘Catch Up Tsar’, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned over the plans having led a review that sized the funding needed as £15bn. There’s also recognition that whilst catch up funding is a necessary response, it doesn’t address the more structural reasons for disadvantage gaps in education widening during the pandemic.
If the proposed additional funding is falling disastrously short, then innovation is a must. There are a few areas in which investing in adoption and strong implementation of education technology can provide a critical part of the solution.
Firstly, schools should invest in systems that free up teachers’ time for teaching. A pre-pandemic survey by Ofsted of 2,000 school and college staff revealed that teachers spend less than half of their time in the classroom, with administrative tasks taking up the bulk of the remainder. Dealing with a pandemic has only made that burden heavier. Using software to digitise critical workflows can give teachers time back during their day to day, improve collaboration, and make preparing for inspection or parent conferences far more efficient. Teachers’ classroom impact improves, critical information, for example, on attainment or child protection stops falling through the gaps, and the ROI from the time saving is clear: a win-win-win. Adopters of systems like safeguarding software provider, CPOMS, are massive advocates for exactly this reason.
Secondly, schools can use technology to make more targeted interventions. There are smart businesses, like Century, bringing AI into the classroom (at an affordable price point). Using AI for personalisation can speed up learning, but as importantly for those in catch up mode, it can also help teachers pinpoint the knowledge gaps that are proving tough to crack for individual students. But this also doesn’t have to be so Tomorrow’s World. Moving on to more modern administrative software with strong reporting functionality – for example, for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provision or attainment tracking – makes data trends far more visible. It’s easier to allocate resources when you can see exactly which cohorts of students have been most severely affected by the pandemic.
Thirdly, schools must continue to drive forward their digital learning strategies. Of course, this will involve a long-term plan for hardware, but reallocating budget to high-quality digital content is equally important and can be achieved more quickly. If engagement is key to learning, then the investment in quality will pay dividends in the long-term and will help students catch up more quickly. It’s also an opportunity to reassess how to address the curriculum, for example incorporating more short video segments for the TikTok generation. Alongside this, teachers should be encouraged to include digital learning classroom methodologies as part of their continuing professional development (CPD) plan. It would be great to see an acceleration of digital learning adoption and the development of digital pedagogy as positives emerging out of the crisis.
If engagement is key to learning, then the investment in quality will pay dividends in the long-term and will help students catch up more quickly
At present, there are no signs that the government plans to reassess its decision on catch-up funding. Sadly, this is likely to remain the case, at least until the impact of the pandemic starts to filter through in exams results. However, for our students, there’s no time to waste and school leaders are not the type to hang about. Technology is key to helping them bridge the gap and greater adoption will have lasting benefits for our education system.
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