‘We need to be better prepared’ to prevent a lost learning generation, say education experts

With students continuing to work from home, many are concerned that families’ lower socioeconomic situation could have a long-term impact on student success

Education institutes of every level must club together to support students of all backgrounds and abilities as they gear up to return to campus in September; otherwise, the UK risks failing to avoid a ‘lost learning generation’ who may struggle to catch up educationally and professionally, according to a group of education experts who discussed the matter at a virtual event organised by Big Tent Ideas this week.

Matt Hood, principal of Oak National Academy – a free digital portfolio of recorded lessons and educational resources to support home learning during the lockdown – fears that many will wrongly assume the teaching strategies used over the last four months will still be as effective when schools, MATs, colleges and universities reopen in September, thus failing to adapt to the changing situation.

“What has been created to fit the situation for this term won’t apply to the next,” said Hood. “We would be sloppy as an education system if we don’t make sure a Plan B is in place. We need to be better prepared than we were in March and April.

“Any town in the country could be the next Leicester. We must ask what our backup plan is and I think a blended approach is needed.”

As working from home continues and certain lockdown measures remain in place, education professionals fear that families’ lower socioeconomic circumstances could have a lasting impact on student success, with the digital divide meaning some students do not have access to the adequate space, technologies or services needed to complete classwork at home. At the Big Tent event, Hood also emphasised that the costs associated with internet data are often overlooked, and these expenses can accumulate faster in houses with no long-term plans.

“Telecommunications companies need to exempt certain websites from additional charges,” he said. “We’re currently charging poorer families more than rich ones.”

Tilly Brown, a teacher from Reach Academy Feltham, works with a student cohort largely derived from poor, and often ethic minority, families – something she said resulted in only 20% of the student body returning to campus when they had the chance, compared to 70% from more well-off areas. Brown, however, thinks its wrong to label the current student generation as ‘lost’.

“I think we should be mindful when we describe this generation as ‘lost’. This ignores the immense efforts of many families, assuming children have not been learning anything at this time,” she explained.

Brown also stressed the need to identify students who have had to overcome the biggest challenges throughout this complex time.

“There is an increased risk to people of specific ethnicities,” she said. “This being the case, we cannot expect all children to be able to come back at the same time in September and this might hit disadvantaged communities.

“I’m not talking about an exam factory, but I do think a period of assessment is necessary to target interventions for those who really need it and then we can enter a period of catch-up. We need to direct resources so that those pupils can see that gap being closed.”

Baroness Sally Morgan, a master of Fitzwilliam College, stated what she believed to be schools’ biggest priority:

“The priority for me is to get the students back to school and back to university. Everything else is second best as far as I’m concerned.

“We need to have a grown-up conversation about the risks, and focus really hard on countering disadvantages. We need to assess at all stages who is most likely to be left behind.

“I’m deeply disappointed in the government’s failure to sort out any summer schemes,” added the Baroness.

“If you can build Nightingale hospitals you can figure out where to host extra schools if you need it.”

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