In recent months, the meaning of “school” has been redefined.
The physical space of “school” has been repurposed – initially to provide childcare and provision to the children of keyworkers and those deemed “vulnerable” and now again as schools expand this offer to more pupils. At the same time remote “school” has fired into action, this has taken many forms, from live streamed classes, to recorded lessons and physical work posted home. The work of the profession in managing to operate the new physical school and remote school simultaneously has been incredible.
There has been much debate around the timing and nature of school reopening, driven with an underpinning assumption that (when safe) having children back at school full time is a good thing.
But what if it isn’t the best thing for all children, especially those with some forms of SEND?
In the past couple of months, I have heard numerous examples of children and young people who are right now, during COVID-19, more successful and engaged learners than they have been for a long time.
There seem to be a few reasons for this, which will be more or less relevant in each individual example, here are a few I’ve heard recently:
- The sensory demands of the school environment are no longer a barrier
- The flexibility on when work can be completed within a window – rather than within the constraints of an hour lesson
- The ability to pause and replay recorded lessons
- The ability to extend time spent on work for interest and/or processing
- Social demands are minimised and interactions with teachers and peers can be tightly structured
- 1-2-1 parental, sibling, carer support
- Recorded lessons that are well-paced and sequenced
- Removing travel and transition demands preserves energy
Obviously, there are massive, massive inequalities in terms of access to technology, adult support, internet speeds and quiet workspaces. None of that should be overlooked or downplayed. Some of these elements can and should be addressed within the school environment and structures (as the last thing we want to do is to push children out of their schools ), for example ensuring lessons are well designed and sequenced and environmental disruptions are minimised. Where they cannot be addressed maybe we need a more creative interpretation of “school”?
This context, which has thrown so much in the air, has led to some pupils emerging as more successful and happier learners than they were before lockdown. I’ve heard numerous examples of children not just completing more schoolwork in terms of quantity but also to a much higher quality standard than previously completed in school – and this work is being shared with enthusiasm and pride with teachers. “COVID-19 school” is for some a place of curiosity, excitement, and passion for learning.
Where this is true my view is that we cannot forget these achievements. We should look to identify and preserve the active ingredients of these successes with children and their families. Once we know what the critical elements are then we need to build them into our “new normal”.
If we do proceed to more flexible models of learning there are several considerations that need to be explored:
- Preserving social development opportunities and being an active member of a school community
- Maintaining access to trips, clubs, extra-curricular activities
- Ensuring pupils access and achieve across a broad curriculum
- Putting safeguards so that if arrangements are not working out or need to change the situation can be reviewed swiftly
There are several systemic elements that if in place could help support this, here are a few to start:
- High-quality remote and online options which are available and accessible to schools and families
- A commitment from the DfE that the “new normal” can have new flexibilities around physical presence in school and blended delivery
- Fair boundaries around who can draw on new flexibilities as we establish them – to ensure that pupils are learning and that unfair asks are not made of families
- More support to schools to deploy remote and online resources when needed, to mitigate workload implications
This list is not exhaustive, but honestly, I think we can and should broaden our understanding of “school” so that more children can be happy and successful members of their local school communities and crucially make good progress.
I write this knowing that many families out there have wanted this level of flexibility for their children in the past and are understandably angry that such options have not previously existed.
We can’t rewrite the past, but we can try to build a better future.
What do you think about the future of our schools? Tweet us your opinions at @WholeSchoolSEND