Hands up who had a Business Continuity Plan for their school at the start of March this year? Keep your hand up if that plan included what you would do in the event of a pandemic forcing you to close your school gates to all but the vulnerable and the children of key workers.
The reality is that whilst a handful of leaders had some form of idea what they would do should something terrible happen to their school, very few could have ever envisaged a scenario where they would have to close with barely two days’ notice, and stay closed for almost a whole term.
From talking with a number of schools that RM works with, it was very clear that those that reacted the best were establishments that had recognised the role technology could play within the operation of their school long before the prime minister made his announcement on 20th March.
Schools who had a technology vision and were well on the way to implementing it… Schools with an internal champion who fought for their share of the school’s limited budget funding, and argued for a slice of valuable teacher inset time to train colleagues… Schools who recognised the short-termism of buying cheap IT equipment that had a very limited use… And schools who appreciated that a technology partner with strength in depth could make all the difference when the chips were down.
The Lessons Learnt
Well, we are where we are – we cannot turn the clock back – but we can learn the lessons, and we can ensure that there are some positives from the pain and suffering that the pandemic has brought.
1. Develop an IT strategy for your school. Technology is all around us and having a clear IT strategy up-front allows you to make decisions that will stand the test of time – as explained by an Academy in Stoke-on-Trent: “This made us realise the fundamental role technology plays in empowering, engaging, supporting, collaborating and enhancing teaching and learning”.
2. Be brave and go for it! No-one knew what the right answer was, but doing nothing was definitely the wrong one. In the words of a West Midlands’ primary: “Staff and children are so much more confident in using technology – simply because they have had to be – they had no choice.”
3. Set expectations with parents. This has been as much a new experience for parents as for staff and pupils. “It has brought our school community closer, with parents seeing just how much work has gone into ensuring we kept teaching,” said a primary school in Kent.
4. Do not stifle experimentation. Whilst working remotely, many staff and pupils quickly discovered new functionality and how they could apply it in the school environment. “When someone said ‘Why don’t we use MS Teams’, I knew we had won,” said a secondary school in Reading.
5. Cheap PCs are cheap for a reason. Whilst school budgets are always difficult, the more modern your devices are, the faster they will run, and the easier they will be to use. “Teachers are much more likely to engage with technology if it just works – no long boot up times nor system crashes,” believes a secondary school in Oxfordshire.
6. Invest in a reliable technology partner. Schools cannot be expected to be experts in everything that happens within a school. A partner – RM or anyone else – gives you someone to look out for you, someone to turn to and guide whilst you focus on what you are judged against: how best to teach your pupils. “Whilst the price has to be right, for me the business case is all about allowing me to sleep soundly at night,” said a school trust in Hull.
7. Be lucky! It was the golfer Gary Player who said that the more he practised the luckier he got. In the words of a secondary school in Reading, “I wouldn’t call it luck, but with hindsight we made some very wise decisions over the past few years.”
So as we all start a new school year, we should reflect on some of these lessons and, in particular, our hopes for the future.
Above all is a desire to move forward – not to regress in any way…
- To build on the high levels of resilience that have been accumulated over the last five months
- To extend the appetite that staff and pupils have for developing new ways of teaching and of learning
- To maximise the investments that have been made – in technology, in training and in new capabilities
- To prepare schools for whatever is thrown their way – whether that be local lockdowns, floods, fires, or even bad weather.
Nothing should stop us providing the education our children deserve – whether they are in the classroom or working remotely.
Simon Carter, director, RM Education