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‘Covid Crisis, What Should We Do?’
School closures impact not only students, teachers, and families, but have far-reaching economic and societal consequences. Children thrive when they are safe and protected, when family and community connections are stable and nurturing, and when their basic needs are met. That stability and structure has undergone a cosmic change that as adults we have been left reeling. Considering that is the effect on us – how are the precious little people that we have the privilege of teaching, how are they feeling as they face the unchartered terrain? The swift action of my school closure and many others up and down the country meant as their teachers we couldn’t prepare children for lockdown and teach what it, and what isolating would mean. We weren’t present to be the port of call to discuss and share their questions, worries and apprehensions.
The coronavirus pandemic and the unprecedented measures to contain its spread has disrupted nearly every aspect of children’s lives: their health, development, learning, behaviour, their families’ economic security and their protection from violence, abuse and mental health. Today, we know that over 99% of children are living under some form of pandemic-related limit on movement; 60% live in countries under full or partial lockdowns and 1.5 billion children are out school.( United Nations , April 2020) This is especially tragic for the poorest children, who rely on school meals for their only consistent daily ( at times the only hot) meal. Many children and young people across the country will have found themselves taking on caring roles as parents and carers become ill with Covid-19. Those who are already young carers will have to deal with the added pressures that a lockdown has created. During this crisis, there will have been added pressure on young carers to get food and supplies, but many won’t have had access to larger stores, standing in the queues or online shopping which may have resulted in on missing out on much needed basics .
The once hubs of activity are now silent, education for children is now via online classrooms. As teachers we have wanted to continue emphasising the importance of learning, but it is also important to be realistic in our expectations of what pupils were likely to achieve at home. Home learning, for most will be more intense than being in the classroom, as activities have less variety, and pupils do not have the same opportunities to share ideas and collaborate on work. Teachers are planning lessons and diligently posting them online with a hope to create stability and help to reduce learning loss. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, parents have found themselves taking on a new role as home educators and temporary teachers. However, even with remote help from real teachers, many parents have found the stay-at-home teaching model to be quite difficult – with many parents and carers sharing their frustration and upset on various media platforms. From children begging to return to school to parents admitting they aren’t able to figure out their child’s homework, these are the issues parents are facing. “It is not going good. My mum’s getting stressed out. My mum is really getting confused,” the eight-year-old student wrote. “We took a break so my mum can figure this stuff out and I’m telling you it is not going good.”
One of my main subjects is Personal Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE) and whilst I have nothing but praise for my comrades – I feel I want to scream and say STOP! Let’s look at what our children need, let us park the grammar, the geography and other aspects of the missed curriculum and focus on emotional health. Younger children are at great risk, as high levels of stress and isolation can affect brain development, sometimes with irreparable long-term consequences. Anxiety related issues manifesting themselves in different ways.
As communities we have and are all undergoing trauma that will impinge on school performance. Trauma which will impair learning. As we all know troubled children may experience physical and emotional distress. As educators we need to be promoting well being activities online – activities that can help pupils mental health such as mindfulness. Encouraging children and families to play games, read and where possible go for their daily 30 minutes walk and or do their Joe Wicks collectively.
A return to school , whenever that happens ( and it is safe for all to do so ) needs to ensure that we pre-empt issues of the health and wellbeing of the whole school and its impact on the community during the crisis – particularly in the context of school closures and pressure on health services.
Areas that we need to have at the forefront of our minds are real issues that our communities have gone through – the refugees and migrant families who will have had no recourse to public funds. The Children in asylum-seeking families. Lockdowns and isolation place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse. Children in conflict settings , are also at considerable risk. Their reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators. Unfortunately these can drop under the radar due to parents assuming their child is ‘occupied’ in their learning. For those of us who teach in multicultural communities we need to ensure that we recognise that Covid19 has had a higher impact on Black families and it is featured as discussions enabling pupils to voice their views and experiences. The scourge of domestic violence and trauma for children has not dissipated during lockdown but in many cases children will have observed, heard and felt the Issues of domestic abuse. The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 25% increase in calls and messages from victims of abuse seeking help. This increase represents hundreds more calls across the UK, compared with the level seen just two weeks previously, prior to the COVID-19 restrictions being put into place. Victims of domestic abuse become more vulnerable when confined at home with their abuser. A further element is that emotionally stressful events can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour.
We need to be thinking ahead of what our schools will look like post Covid19 lockdown . Is it business as usual? Are we back to the exam factories approach and don our ‘stiff upper lip’ and solider on? Surely we cannot and will not allow the above to happen? As educators we need to take control, to ensure we are planning a trauma based informed curriculum. One that has PSHE at its core. Child centred learning where the child feel safe, helping them to realise there is a new era and that brings with it new routines.
We need our curriculum to be trauma informed that is able to support children and teenagers who will have suffered with trauma or mental health problems. There has to be an acknowledgement by the great and good of education that if Covid19 trauma will result in troubled behaviour, which will in turn act as a barrier to learning. We cannot simply pick up where we left off in Spring 2020 and need to educate those who have suffered several painful life experiences which are unhealed. There is a very high chance of them going on to suffer severe mental and physical ill-health. We therefore need our schools to support and develop relationships for these children that heal their minds, brains and bodies. The personalised curriculum needs to be skill centric in addressing and making sense of what has happened during covid19 and use the event to shift our whole school/organisation/community culture.
To conclude – I would ask that we pre-empt our return, let’s start the dialogue with the school leaders, governors and communities. As Pablo Friere said “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. We need to ensure our educational establishments are being trauma-informed which means being informed about and sensitive to trauma, and providing a safe, stable, and understanding environment for students and staff. “The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it”. Let us be the transformers!
Context – to discuss the issues that could arise from educators being instructed to assess their learners, using the assessment policy that has arisen from the covid-19 crisis due to the cancellation of formal examinations. As this is a massive area and time was very limited, I focused on early years and primary assessments in relation to policy and possible areas where biases could arise, and gave a brief insight into proposed (not exclusively NEU) action that is being discussed and is taking place.
In Early years we use an assessment tool called target tracker. At the end of reception pupils are expected to achieve a good level of development (GLD) within communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. Some children are still 4 years old. Teachers and in some cases HILTA’s are asked to predict where children will be unlike GCSE/A levels there’s considerable evidence, however still room for educator bias. This is notable for our black pupils, whose families may be new to the country, new to the education system and unfamiliar with school boundaries. This can lead to incorrect diagnosis of SEND, most notably autism, ADHD & SMEH, and therein sits the foundation for a career of mis-education.
Phonics screening in year 1 is openly bias and disadvantageous as more pupils from black and non-English speaking backgrounds may not be offered the screening because they have recently arrived or because English is not their home language meaning that it may take them longer to acquire the 44 sounds that represent the 26 lettered alphabet in order to determine the real from nonsense words that make up the screening test.
KS1 expectations of pupils to emerge, expect or exceed at the end of year 2 is (silently) governed by them achieving GLD two years’ previous and by teacher assessment. In turn, the prediction of KS2 SATs results by schools uses the same principle. At this point, it’s important to note that if discrimination and inequality is prevalent at early years – when a child is aged 3,4,or 5- the foundation is cast for a learning career that will be coated with bias (which is not always unconscious) and also that barriers including but not exclusive to social, emotional and financial may be additional to this.
The covid-19 crisis enables opportunities for questions to be asked, statements made and for scrutiny of the current assessment procedure, teaching methods and pupil-teacher relationships to be examined. It also gives, however, gives grave concern to black and working class parents/carers and pupils who may or many not have had previously negative (some limited and some vast) experiences within education.
In order to begin to mitigate against some areas where bias may arise, some black educators have formed working groups. The aim of these groups is to
bring an awareness of the barriers black/working class pupils will face specific to this crisis and in some instances beyond. The groups are working on the areas of assessment, exclusions, SEND, decolonizing, parents, families and communities and COVID and it’s impact. For some recipients the reports will be uncomfortable reading.
The working group’s work needs to be shared in schools with leaders, educator colleagues, in union branches and districts, with local politicians, in universities, colleges, 6th forms, schools and nurseries and everywhere where black and working class children are educated. It’s now time for education to be more equal, less discriminatory and more socially encompassing, and this crisis gives that us opportunity. We cannot return to how things were!
References for further reading around this topic are listed below.
References: not in chronological order.
TES, ‘Coronavirus: Williamson warned over grading injustice (2020) https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-williamson-warned-over-grading-injustice
The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/fears-that-cancelling-exams-will-hit-black-and-poor-pupils-worst (2020)
David Gillborn (2008) Racism and Education: Coincidence or Conspiracy?, DOI – 10.4324/9780203928424
The Centre for Education & Youth (2018) https://cfey.org/reports/2018/12/boys-on-track-improving-support-for-white-fsm-eligible-and-black-caribbean-boys-in-london/
Institute of race relations (2015) http://www.irr.org.uk/research/statistics/poverty/
David Gillborn (2014) Racism as Policy: A Critical Race Analysis of
Education Reforms in the United States and England, The Educational Forum, 78:1, 26-41, DOI:10.1080/00131725.2014.850982
Racial Justice Network and Kids of Colour joint statement on the cancelling of GCSE and A-level examination https://twitter.com/RaceJustice/status/1240729329031680005?s=09
Sutton Trust (2017) https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Rules-of-the-Game.pdf
Teachers biased against black pupils and white boys from underprivileged backgrounds, report says – The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teachers-bias-black-pupils-caribbean-school-results-education-racism-report-study-london-a8676336.html
This is an opinion piece, by Alisdair Smith, with the intention of opening a discussion on assessment.
The Covid-19 crisis that has closed our schools has sent most of us more deeply into the world of home learning than we’ve ever cared to go. It’s been challenging to think of good home learning tasks that can be downloaded, completed remotely without any help (other than what family or the Internet can provide) and that are useful to the course. Really what we’ve been doing is amplifying the amount of regular homework – and amplifying the advantages and disadvantages of regular homework.
I wrote my post-graduate dissertation on homework and I think that this crisis is highlighting the existing concerns with homework. Does it help learning? Only in a limited way. The headlines of research (those that we always recite to Secondary students) show that those who complete their homework regularly do better in their GCSEs. That’s probably true. But the obvious, but largely unspoken side to this, is that those students are the ones who are likely to do better anyway.
Does it help those who struggle with learning? No, because most homework tasks are either practice of something that’s been done in school – which if they didn’t understand when teachers were explaining it to them, they’re certainly not going to understand at home – or they are a research-based task. These are the ones that lots of us are setting now… watch this video and write down 5 things you notice about it; research 5 scientists and describe why they were important; take a virtual trip through the V&A museum and describe 3 things you liked and why. All good tasks – particularly at the moment when we don’t know when next we’ll all be sitting in a classroom together.. but the sorts of children that aren’t normally going to do this in class, or work more slowly than the others – are no more likely to do it now.
I’m not mocking the task – for many of us – particularly those who work in deprived Inner City schools we’re often competing against other students’ cultural capital and if our students have the time and are willing then tasks like these are invaluable at building that. But every day in a normal environment, they’re not.
My research showed me that homework was effective when achieving this outcome, but if the students aren’t doing it it doesn’t help them. It’s just a waste of time for the teacher to continually have to set homework to everyone, have to mark it and return it and check who’s done it. Let’s face it, if you know most of your students don’t do homework you don’t set anything meaningful, so then it’s not helping those who would do it anyway. But you can’t rely on it being done for the next lesson if it’s not going to be done by a majority.
There was some research a few years ago in the Netherlands that showed that there was at least one case when homework actually hindered attainment. This was when teachers had set homework that needed to be completed before the next lesson. Many of our students don’t have a place to work at home that’s suitable, or don’t have a computer to work on. If a significant group isn’t able to complete that homework then their results will be adversely affected.
There’s lots that will come out of this crisis. Maybe a willingness for students to engage with home learning, supported by their parents will be one of them. But more likely, it will be that homework in its traditional form doesn’t help most pupils, that Show My Homework and Google Classrooms only help those with not only a good internet connection at home, but access to an actual computer (you can’t download a set of questions, type an essay and resubmit on a phone) and that therefore it’s time to re-appraise traditional learning and the curriculum. That’s something that’s definitely ripe for a re-appraisal.
Gerald Clark – Camden NEU